New York Cannabis Legalization Faces One Final Hurdle

State lawmakers are close to reaching an agreement on legalizing adult use cannabis in New York, but a familiar hurdle to its final passage remains: Reconciling the concerns raised by some Democratic lawmakers over traffic safety.

“We are extremely close,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said on Tuesday. “We have continued to have negotiations and ironed out a lot of what we think will be important.”

The issues raised by lawmakers over how to police marijuana intoxication when someone is behind the wheel of a car was raised by suburban Democrats in 2019. The bill was ultimately shelved at the time for a measure decriminalizing marijuana possession in the state.

Legalizing cannabis in New York is meant to correct decades of criminal justice laws in New York, provide a social equity fund for communities affected by the war on drugs and ensure those same communities can still participate in what is expected to become a billion dollar industry.

But, despite Democratic control of both chambers of the Legislature, the bill has stalled for the last two years in Albany.

The safety issue has been raised also by a coalition of education organizations and law enforcement groups who have opposed the bill in the past.

“A vote for this is a vote to harm our children,” said Kyle Belokopitsky, the executive director of the New York State PTA. “There’s no other way of looking at this bill.”

The PTA and other groups are mobilizing opposition with an open letter campaign this week as the measure has gained momentum.

“As advocates this is going to affect our children, this is going to affect the safety of motorists on the street, this is going to affect our families,” she said. “I don’t know what they’re still pushing it.”

Meanwhile, New York’s medicinal marijuana industry wants to ensure it won’t be left out of a broader legalizing program.

“Other states when they have not allowed that, they have seen medical dispensaries disappear,” said New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association President Ngiste Abebe.

The 10 existing medicinal marijuana companies can provide existing infrastructure, including grow facilities, to provide support for what would be a new sector of the economy.

“Being able to ensure the existing medical dispensaries can also sell adult use is vital because it ensures patients have ongoing access and it keeps those viable,” she said.

At the moment, Abebe said the bill under consideration by lawmakers is moving toward satisfying those concerns.

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