Legal Marijuana In N.Y.? Cuomo’s Push For A Study Fuels Debate

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Photo Credit: Gabrielle Lurie

Some called it a waste of taxpayer money.

Some welcomed it.

And others said the possibility of legalizing recreation marijuana in New York state would just add a dangerous dimension to the borough’s raging drug crisis.

In his 2018 budget plan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed funding an advisory panel that will recommend whether or not recreational marijuana should be legalized New York.

The state panel, if funded, will conduct a study with state police and other agencies to examine legal pot’s potential impact on New York’s economy and its health and criminal justice system.

The study will also examine the potential impact of being between Massachusetts, which is in the midst of implementing recreational marijuana, and New Jersey, whose new governor, Phil Murphy, has made legalizing recreational marijuana a priority.

State Sen. Diane Savino — who was the Senate’s sponsor of the Compassionate Care Act that legalized medical marijuana in New York in 2014 — said that she thought that spending taxpayer funds on a study was unnecessary, but that Cuomo’s proposal is “a good step in the right direction.”

Assemblyman Matthew Titone welcomed the advisory panel and said that a study would provide the state Legislature with a common set of facts.

“You can’t completely dismiss it because of our cultural mindset from the war on drugs. A credible study will help us make a more informed decision,” Titone said. “Until then, we’re kind of operating in the blind.”

‘A SOURCE OF REVENUE’

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis told the Advance that she was opposed to the idea and that Cuomo was only floating the possibility of legalization because of this year’s budget shortfall.

“The governor is looking for additional sources of revenue and on one hand he is opposed to recreational marijuana and now he’s looking to legalize it as a source of revenue,” she said. “So I’m opposed to that.”

Assemblyman Michael Cusick, citing Staten Island’s drug crisis, said he was opposed to legalizing recreational pot, but supported budgeting funds for the governor’s advisory panel

“I do not believe that as we battle the opioid and heroin epidemic we should legalize marijuana for recreational use,” Cusick said in a statement. “I do commend and support Governor Cuomo’s efforts to establish a commission to study the economic and health impacts legalizing marijuana would bring forth.”

CUOMO’S POSITION

Cuomo has said he was opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana.

“It’s a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there’s a lot of proof that that’s true,” Cuomo said in February, according to Politico. “There’s two sides to the argument. But I, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana.”

In 2016, Cuomo’s administration began rolling out a highly regulated medical marijuana program. Initially, only five registered organizations were allowed to operate and each organization could only have four dispensaries.

Since then, the state’s Health Department brought in five more companies, but they have yet to open any dispensaries, including Citiva Medical LLC’s Staten Island dispensary.

PASSIONATE OPPOSITION

Staten Island treatment professionals and others who have been fighting the borough’s opioid epidemic had serious reservations about even the potential of having legal marijuana in New York.

“I think that recreational marijuana is a detriment to the overall society I think it sends a message about drug use being a social norm,” said Luke Nasta, CEO of Camelot Counseling, an addiction treatment center.

“Not everyone who smokes marijuana will become dependent on marijuana,” Nasta added. “But almost every patient we’ve had on Staten Island has tried marijuana first.”

Tackling Youth Substance Abuse (TYSA), a coalition of organizations that fight the drug epidemic, opposes efforts to legalize marijuana. Studies conducted by the group have shown decreases in binge drinking and prescription drug abuse, but an increase in youth marijuana use.

“Marijuana is one of the most commonly used substances by adolescents in our community and has demonstrated negative outcomes on youth health and development,” said Adrienne Abbate, project director of TYSA.

“Any change in the legal status of marijuana, even if limited to adults, could further negatively impact the prevalence of use among adolescents,” Abbate added.

Abbate also said that Cuomo should include professionals who deal with substance abuse if the state moves forward with the advisory panel.

“We hope that he would appoint members with public health and substance use prevention and treatment experience to provide a comprehensive perspective on the impact of legalization to the larger community,” Abbate said.

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