The state of New York is using the end of 2018 to keep the dialogue rolling on legalizing cannabis, discussing issues such as regulation, taxation, and justice system reform. On the morning of December 3rd, a hearing was held at Babylon Town Hall in Long Island and was attended by numerous legislative officials who are looking for public opinion on recreational cannabis as the state prepares to consider the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act in the coming legislative session in January.
“Creating an adult-use system in New York raises important issues about the economic structure and regulation of production, distribution and sale,” a letter originally announcing the meeting read. “Criminal justice and public health concerns, social and economic equity demands, ensuring opportunities for smaller scale and minority-and-women-owned businesses, and other relevant regulatory matters all need to be considered.”
The Long Island hearing was attended by officials like assembly members Joseph R. Lentol (Chair of Committee on Codes), Richard N. Gottfried (Committee on Health), Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes (Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations) and Linda B. Rosenthal (Chair of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse).
While the focus of the bill is regulating and taxing the commercial sale of cannabis, another major focus is a significant reform of the criminal justice policies surrounding marijuana. If passed, convictions for low-level possession (including possession in public view) and low-level sales would be vacated from the records. Several other cannabis-related offenses – ranging from misdemeanor to felony – would be sealed or reclassified, and convictions or current sentences would be adjusted and reduced accordingly.
It may be an early work-in-progress, but there is a lot of positivity toward the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. The legislative body of Tompkins County recently voted 13-1 to approve a resolution that supports the legalization bill – and public opinion has been shifting towards favoring a legal and regulated market.
“Not only about is it a good idea or bad idea. But also about what are the mechanics of it. Creating a new industry is a complicated thing. We haven’t done that in New York since the end of prohibition in 1933,” Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried stated at the last hearing held on November 20 in Binghamton.
For a state that only two years ago had one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs in the country, even discussing recreational legalization is an impressive change in direction. Cannabis has been decriminalized in New York state for years, yet the negative impacts of prohibition are no different than anywhere else. As we move into 2019, it will be up to lawmakers to come to a decision – and hopefully make the move to a more sensible cannabis policy.