NYS Exposed: Changes coming to recreational marijuana laws in NY?

June 29, 2017 11:36 PM

Recreational marijuana-use is still illegal in New York State. But some lawmakers think that's close to changing. It is legal in eight states, nationwide, plus the District of Columbia. 

We spoke with several people on the streets of Monroe County, and found it difficult to find anybody to go on camera, and say they think recreational marijuana should stay illegal. Some lawmakers are confident that New York is close to joining the group of eight states where it is legalized.

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"Marijuana has been around a long time. It doesn't really cause any bad effects," Reuben Granger of Rochester told us. "Up to a certain amount, you should be able to do what you want to do. It's America.”

Other supporters of legalized marijuana we found admitted they had some reservations, but ultimately still thought New York should go ahead and change the law.

For example, Randi Barrell told us, "I think it should be legalized recreationally, but also alcohol is legal and it comes with problems as well."

"It impacts peoples’ patterns of behavior and ability to manage and function," said Laura Lemmey, who told us she thinks it would be safer if officials were able to regulate the drug.

Both Granger and Barrell said they think it will eventually be legalized.

If it's a question of when, the answer may lie somewhere in the Javits Center, in New York City. That's where two New York State Legislators pushing legalized recreational marijuana made their case.

They are Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, and Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan. They attended an event at the Javits Center called the Cannabis World Congress. It's where the lawmakers revealed their pitch to make New York the next state with legalized recreational marijuana use. For the third time, they've introduced legislation to make it happen, tax it, and regulate it. The bill hasn't even seen one vote.

"[Marijuana is] not a harmful drug, less-so than alcohol or tobacco. We just tax and regulate those," said Senator Krueger. "Take it out of the criminal justice system."

"For me, this is a social justice issue," Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes told us. "This is a way to stop locking up people for something that mostly white people do."

An ACLU study actually found black and white people use pot at similar rates, while a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for it.

According to Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputies, as of Thursday, there are four people in the county jail who are held on marijuana offenses solely. Officials with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision say statewide, 42 people are in prison as a result of just a marijuana sale or possession conviction.

Gates Police Chief James VanBrederode is the President of the Monroe County Chiefs of Police Association. He says in most cases, a suspect would just receive an appearance ticket.

"Unless you have pounds and pounds of marijuana, show me somebody who is sitting in jail," he said. "I can't think of anybody."

The numbers from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and DOCCS don’t show how much marijuana the suspects were accused of possessing or selling.

When it comes to legalized pot use, VanBrederode isn't on the high road.

"When people are intoxicated, those are tough customers for us," he explained. "When people are under the influence of drugs, a mind-altering substance, those are the customers that can fight with the police, don't have common sense. They're hard to reason with."

Chief VanBrederode isn't convinced pot will ever be legal in New York State. But Peoples-Stokes and Krueger say they're going to push their bills hard next January, when the state legislature returns to regular session. It's their goal to make pot legal then.

But at the very least, Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes told us, "I could envision this happening before 2020."

As is the case with many things in New York, the buck, or in this case, the bill, stops with Governor Andrew Cuomo. He may be the biggest hurdle the initiative has.

"When he came in as governor, he was explicitly opposed to medical marijuana," said Senator Krueger. "We now have a medical marijuana law he signed."

While the governor has pushed for decriminalization of marijuana, he hasn't come out in favor of full legalization. This has to go through the legislature and the governor one way or another. In the eight states where marijuana-use is legal recreationally, the people brought it to a vote. That can’t happen in New York.


Chris Horvatits

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