Gov. Andrew Cuomo today signed a bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and over in New York State, action that will be the subject of much debate until and following the new law’s implementation, which is expected in about 18 months.
The Batavian reached out to local government representatives, substance use prevention professionals, hemp producers and retailers, law enforcement and the chair of the Genesee County Libertarian Party for their thoughts on New York becoming the 15th state with legal recreational marijuana.
Chris Van Dusen, president, Empire Hemp Co., Liberty Square, Batavia:
“I think it is really exciting news. The legislation that they have come up with, I think is pretty fair and it doesn’t cut out the potential for small businesses to get into the industry. I think it is a good plan, and the taxation is not too out of control on it.
“I am looking forward to expanding our business into the ‘rec’ market through another corporation that we will start – not Empire Hemp Co. – but we will plan on being involved in a processing capacity.”
Van Dusen said the facility in Liberty Square is for processing – “where we turn all of the raw hemp into CBD oil” – and he is close to opening a retail store on Main Street.
When asked about the legislation having safeguards against marijuana getting into minors’ hands, he said he believes that a new Office of Cannabis Management will implement guidelines similar to what are in place for alcohol use.
“And I think that a lot of the tax dollars will be going back into treatment programs and social programs, and that will be a benefit to the community as well,” he said.
The law, which was passed on party line voting in the Democratic Party-controlled Assembly and Senate on Tuesday, calls for a 13-percent excise tax, with 1 percent going to the county and 3 percent earmarked for the municipality (town, city, village) of the dispensary.
“The growers and the processors are going to get into it, there’s going to be an upfront investment. But as far as the end user costs at the retail level, I don’t think it’s going to be much outside what you are seeing in the other legal states as far as what you get for what price or, frankly, what you find on the black market. I think it hopefully will take more out of the black market – having it regulated like this will allow for a cleaner, safer product that’s regulated versus what’s coming off the street – imported from who knows where.
Batavia City Manager Rachael Tabelski:
“Without having a chance to read the entire bill yet, I can safely say that if there were a dispensary within the City of Batavia, it is my understanding that the city would gain 3 percent of the tax revenue related to that dispensary.
“That certainly is a brand-new revenue source … but it is all hypothetical until you have one. I want to continue to read through the legislation and we’ll be working with NYCOM (New York Conference of Mayors) – the city’s association. So, we’ll wait and see what their guidance looks like. The local level does have some decisions to make in this. We don’t have any decision-making on adult use, but we do have decision-making on whether the city allows for a dispensary and then we can regulate the times, place and manner through local zoning.
“Whether Batavia has a distribution point in the city or not, people will now be allowed to use it per the regulations and guidelines that came out. If that is the case, it might warrant a legislative choice (by City Council) to be made or the choice to do nothing, and just let it happen. I certainly will be getting information to City Council to help them understand the legislation and how communities align with the legislation.
“There’s growing, there’s retail and there’s use. No matter what happens with the growing and the retail, there is going to be use in our city. It’s going to happen, in that, if we have the ability to bring in revenue, that may be an option for us. We certainly will have some growing pains associated with legalized use and, especially, kind of the edible product that might be included in this.”
Shannon Ford, director of Prevention, Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse:
“From a Prevention perspective, I’m very concerned about this. Legalizing marijuana will have a negative impact on our youth for sure. Although youth will not be able to use marijuana legally, we know there will be an increase in access if the adults in their lives are possessing and using it.
“In addition, over the last couple of years, youth perception of harm of smoking marijuana has decreased. With more media messages and legalization/commercialization, I anticipate the perceived risk of harm will further be reduced. Both access and a decreased perception of harm will likely increase youth marijuana use.
“As it is legalized for adult use where it will be monitored for ‘purity,’ youth will still be seeking it on the streets, where we know there is a higher potential of risk.”
Mark Potwora, Genesee County Libertarian Party chair:
“My opinion -- and I would say it is the opinion of the Libertarian Party -- is that it is something that should have been legal a long time ago, and for some reason, what was not legal years ago is legal now. A lot of people suffered because of marijuana laws (on the books). A lot of families and 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids got a marijuana charge that kind of ruined their lives for a while.
“The problem I have with the legalization of the whole thing is that they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. They’re doing it because they want money. They want to raise revenue. They’re not doing it because it’s the right thing to do. That kind of bothers me, but I’m glad that they’re legalizing it.”
Potwora compared marijuana use to alcohol use.
“It’s just like alcohol. It shouldn’t be administered to young kids and there is an age limit. And, along the lines of medical marijuana -- which a lot of people have – it is not a negative. It’s probably a good thing. Whoever smokes marijuana or pot now, I don’t think they’re going to create a whole new industry of pot smokers. If you didn’t smoke it before – because it’s so easy to get – I don’t see any big problem coming up that they aren’t already addressing.
He also said the current marijuana laws give police “an in” to search people.
“They (police) say, ‘Oh you’re smoking pot. Come here, I want to pat you down.’ And they always took it farther and farther. This is one less thing for them to have a reasonable cause to mess with you, I guess.”
Nola Goodrich-Kresse, Genesee Orleans Public Health educator:
“Public Health has had a standing position in opposition of legalization of marijuana in New York State for several years. Our state association, The New York State Association of County Health Officials, officially has maintained opposition to legalized adult use of cannabis, based on the quantifiable adverse impact it will have on public health.”
She then offered the following bullet points for consideration:
- Legalization will create a similar path to tobacco with the need to build infrastructure and systems around dealing with the downstream issues that will come.
- Legalization does not mean safe and healthy, it creates a false sense of security and belief, especially in youth that it is safe since it is legal.
- There has been general support for medical use of cannabis, which has been in place for over five years, and has been effective in helping those with identified medical conditions.
- Evidence indicates that long-term cannabis use can lead to addiction. There is cannabis withdrawal syndrome, which makes cessation difficult and contributes to relapse. Adolescents are particularly susceptible as compared to those who begin use in adulthood. Adolescence are approximately two to four times as likely to have symptoms of cannabis dependence within two years after first use.
Jeremy Almeter and Pavel Belov, co-owners, Glass Roots, 12 Center St., Batavia:
"While today is certainly a step in the right direction, we are still far from declaring this our 'milestoned' moment. We at Glass Roots have been committed to destigmatizing and normalizing cannabis for over 15 years. By building trust and serving our community, we have seen there are no applicable stereotypes for cannabis usage.
“ ’Recreational’ cannabis is a misleading term; adult-use is what we are truly achieving today. This legislation specifically addresses and builds the foundation for an infrastructure, which ensures that cannabis products will be handled in a safe and secure manner from seed to sale.
“The fight has just begun. Access to plants and the many benefits they offer us and our animal friends is a basic right. To all the people who grew up indoctrinated with lies that compare cannabis to heroin use or its ‘gateway’ -- we are here to say the light at the end of the tunnel is upon us.
“Moving forward, we plan on working closely with community leaders to cultivate a safe and educational environment for cannabis culture within Genesee County.”
Glass Roots is an on-site glass-blowing facility that sells art pieces as well as CBD oils and other hemp products.
An email and phone call to Genesee County Sheriff William Sheron Jr. were not returned at the time of the posting of this story.
More about the today’s legalization, called the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act:
- The new law erases convictions for marijuana possession that would now be legal, and directs 40 percent of pot tax revenue to communities of color that excessively faced pot charges.
- Possession of up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrated forms of the drug will be allowed for recreational use.
- Three Senate Democrats voted against the bill, which passed 40-23, while no Democrats voted against it in the Assembly, where it passed by a 100-49 tally.
- State officials are indicating that marijuana sales are expected to generate $350 million in revenue to the state per year, and around 50,000 jobs will be created.