Members of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in Akwesasne went to the polls last month to express their views on authorizing the use of medical cannabis and recreational marijuana.
And the results were overwhelming. Voters approved legalizing medical cannabis now by 86 percent (175-29) and moving toward eventually permitting recreational marijuana by 76 percent (155-49). The referendum was held Dec. 14, and the totals were certified Dec. 23 by the tribal Election Board.
“The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe joins tribes around the country pursuing the benefits of medicinal [cannabis] and the possible economic gains that come with legalizing [marijuana] for recreational use,” according to a story published Dec. 23 by the Watertown Daily Times. “Historically, U.S. government officials have made clear they will not impede on the decisions of states and sovereign tribes, though those waters have become slightly murky to wade in since President Donald Trump began rolling back policies in place under the previous administration.
“Voters were provided five business days to appeal the results of the referendum,” the article reported. “None were submitted, and the tribe is moving forward with implementing the medical [cannabis] ordinance and pursuing marijuana legalization subject to future regulations.”
More than a year ago, Canada legalized recreational marijuana. The recent vote in Akwesasne to set the stage for this to occur there will put more pressure on the New York Legislature to do the same.
Legislators voted to permit the use of medical cannabis here in 2014. State officials worked diligently to draft a set of regulations that would enhance the benefits of using the drug for medicinal purposes while minimizing the potential for harm.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed in late 2018 legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. But lawmakers failed to work out all the details needed to pass such a measure. This past fall, Mr. Cuomo said he would introduce legislation to authorize it this year.
“Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will unveil by January a plan to legalize the recreational use of marijuana — a blueprint he then intends to include in next year’s state budget negotiations,” according to a story published Sept. 25 by the Times Union in Albany. “Cuomo will develop the plan after meeting with leaders from nearby states to devise a ‘common framework’ for marijuana laws, including minimum ages or permitted THC content. He plans to unveil the proposal during the annual State of the State address, he said in an interview on WAMC.”
When the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe enacts recreational marijuana, New York will be bordered by two sovereign nations that allow the practice. For state legislators to sit on the sidelines and allow Canada and Akwesasne to reap all the benefits would be foolish.
We understand the need for caution in drafting legislation for recreational marijuana. Policymakers must review this issue carefully.
However, recreational marijuana has gained momentum in good portions of the country. Prohibition simply isn’t working — particularly when neighboring states are giving it the green light. So governments are finding it more practical to legalize it with effective regulations.
New York should follow suit this year. Facing a $6.1 billion budget deficit, capturing the tax revenue from recreational marijuana would be like manna from heaven. State lawmakers need to work out a sensible plan and pass a bill in the coming legislative session.