WATERTOWN — New York is poised to legalize recreational marijuana, but some of the north country’s legislators say they’re seriously concerned about the plan.
State Democrats on Saturday introduced a bill in the state Legislature that would make recreational consumption of marijuana by adults legal immediately once signed into law.
Known as the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the bill would also set up a bureaucracy to facilitate marijuana farming, retail sales and delivery services across New York state, while expunging most marijuana-related criminal records and investing significant amounts of revenue in communities of people most affected by criminalization.
Proponents of the law say it’s an equitable way to stop the damage done to people of color by the war on drugs and a great way to bring in some extra tax revenue for the state as well.
Not everyone is happy with the new legislation, and north country legislators seem united in their opposition to it.
Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, said in a statement that he’s wholly opposed to the bill, which he said is a “distraction” for the legislature from dealing with the pandemic and sorting out the state budget, which is due on April 1.
“Every law enforcement agency and addiction treatment organization I have talked to is against the bill,” he said. “After listening to countless people in our district who will be on the front lines of dealing with marijuana legalization, I will be a no vote when it comes to the Assembly floor tomorrow.”
In a statement, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said she’s worried about the long-term effects the MRTA may have on drug addiction.
“While I am still reviewing the proposed legislation, one of my chief concerns regarding legalization is timing,” Sen. Ritchie said. “We are in the midst of a pandemic where we have seen drug abuse and overdoses increase significantly. I fear the legalization of marijuana will only exacerbate the challenges we face when it comes to drug abuse in our communities.”
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, said that while he has supported decriminalizing cannabis possession, he believes legal recreational marijuana use “just goes too far.” In a statement, Mr. Jones said that many people in recovery from drug addiction have expressed concerns over the proposal as well.
“Considering how the pandemic has only exacerbated the opioid crisis in the north country I do not want to rush into legalizing recreational cannabis as a way to raise state revenue.”
Mr. Jones noted that he also has concerns over the plan to distribute tax revenue from cannabis sales, and continues to have concerns over how police will deal with drivers under the influence of marijuana.
A spokesperson for state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, said the senator is still reviewing the legislation, and Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, did not return a request for comment.