NYS Moving Toward Legalizing Recreational Use Of Marijuana

Photo Credit: Kira Horvath

It may not be long before the recreational use of marijuana is legal here in New York State. Canada voted on Monday to allow the recreational use of marijuana, joining nine states here in the U.S. that have legalized it too.

Earlier this week, NYS Health Commissioner Howard Zuker said the pros of regulating it out-weights the cons.

New York State Police also confirm that they are no longer training drug-sniffing dogs to detect marijuana.

Canada voted on Monday to allow the recreational use of marijuana, joining nine states here in the U.S. that have legalized it too.

“I am in complete agreement. For a person living with a debilitating disease, I have rheumatoid arthritis, severe. It is so much healthier to use a natural product than to use some of these pharmaceuticals,” says Almeta Whitis of Rochester.

Whitis would qualify right now for medical marijuana but she’s been hesitant to apply.

“I have to look at it from my cultural and identity stand-point where marijuana possession has been used to incarcerate black men and black women for years for just a joint,” she tells News10NBC.

Greg Weezner, also of Rochester, has mixed feelings about whether legalizing pot is a good idea, “I was a heavy user years and years ago which led to a waste of time and some depression. I see both sides, I do think there is medicinal value to it. It would probably clear up a lot of court or legislative things if they did that,” he says.

Zuker is backing legalization but hasn’t released a full study on the issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo asked him to conduct in January.

At this point there are no details as to how old someone would have to be to buy and use it, who can grow and distribute it, where dispensaries would be located or how much the state would consider taxing it.

A review of policies in other states that allow recreational use of marijuana shows it’s generally limited to those over the age of 21.

It can be purchased an ounce at a time for residents and has to consumed on private property.

Most states add on a tax of between 10-20%,

In a statement to News10NBC on Wednesday, New York State Police spokesman Beau Duffy says, “Our canines are trained for a variety of specific purposes depending on the need. Given the ongoing policy discussions regarding regulated marijuana use, the narcotics detection canines in the current class at our training facility in Cooperstown are not being trained to detect marijuana. However, they can be trained on marijuana in the future, as needed.”

The New York City Police Department announced this week it will no longer arrest people for smoking pot unless the person has previous criminal convictions, a policy the New York Civil Liberties Union agrees with, “it seems silly for such a low-level offense to have the usage of marijuana be the reason behind why someone can’t get a job or can’t get a house or whatever it may be,” says Iman Abid of the Genesee Valley Chapter.

Local police chiefs have some serious concerns about legalizing marijuana, “that really sends the signal, “hey go use it and life’s going to be good. Everything will be good.” Lots and lots of people are using it but that doesn’t mean you create a social policy to legitimize it just because everybody is doing it,” says Gates Police Chief James Vanbrederode who heads the Monroe County Association of Chiefs of Police.

Vanbrederode says he is surprised to hear that Governor Cuomo is reversing his original opinion that marijuana was a gateway drug.

“The people who legalize this down in Albany, they’re not going to be the ones addressing the problem. It’s going to be another issue law enforcement is going to have to deal with. We have our hands full with the opioid problem…We’re the ones who respond to all the calls, we’re the ones who respond to suicide scenes where often times before someone kills themselves they used marijuana or other drugs.

In our interviews with hundreds and hundreds of people that we’ve arrested, it’s not uncommon to hear the same story. They started with alcohol then marijuana, then cocaine, heroin and I know the studies have shown this isn’t a gateway drug but until you’ve walked in law enforcement steps and see our side of the perspective we would not approve of this,” he tells News10NBC.

There is no timetable on when marijuana may be legalized in New York. Zucker says his report will be released in the coming weeks.

Governor Cuomo says he will take some time to read through it and respond. Any changes to current law would require legislative approval and both the NYS Assembly and Senate leave Wednesday on summer break.