When Cindy Wolff first learned of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to legalize and tax recreational marijuana for adults the executive director of Woodmere-based Tempo Group was taken aback.
“It’s quite disappointing honestly, not because I don’t see the financial potential and the bigger picture how the state could benefit from legalization, but there is a disturbing lack of prevention and concern for the children,” said Wolff, who oversees an organization that offers drug and alcohol abuse addiction programs for youths, teens, adults and families.
Concerned about the impact on young people, who have accessibility to vaping and would be the likely targets of product marketing she said: “We have not done a great job with things like that such as alcohol or nicotine. To say we won’t have the same issue is naive to say the least.” Considering the ongoing heroin epidemic, which includes the increasing use of opioids and fetanyl, Wolff added, “It’s definitely an interesting time to talk about legalizing marijuana.”
A new legislative session is under way in Albany. The Democrats rule the executive branch, continue to have hold sway in the Assembly and now have the majority in the State Senate. It is expected that Cuomo will unveil his plan for the legalization of recreational marijuana in his executive budget. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a study in May that estimated legalizing marijuana could create a $3.1 billion market across the state and the accompanying excise taxes such as the existing ones on alcohol and cigarettes could generate $436 million in new state taxes.
Beginning in January of last year, Cuomo asked the state Department of Health to conduct a study of the criminal justice, economic and health impacts of a regulated marijuana program. In July, the DOH released its report and noted that “the positive impact of a regulated marijuana market in New York state outweigh the potential negative aspects.”
Many skeptics of Cuomo’s plan are blunt in their opposition to the legalization citing statistics unveiled in September that show the increase in vehicle crashes in Denver since 2013, the year after recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado. Marijuana-related traffic death jumped 151 percent and all traffic fatalities went up 35 percent.
State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller, a Republican from Atlantic beach, said she her reaction was shock after learning of Cuomo’s proposal. As an advocate for medicinal marijuana, Miller battled the governor’s concerns about it being diverted for public use.
“To introduce a recreational program, where anyone can get access to marijuana, but the very people who need the medicinal grade, properly dosed and regulated and fairly priced marijuana, still won’t be able to get, seems very unfair to me.”
Rabbi Dov Silver, the founder and executive vice president of Woodmere-based Madarigos, a nonprofit that aims to help teenagers and young adults overcome life’s challenges, said be believes marijuana legalization would especially increase access to the drug for young people. “Studies have also shown that marijuana is a gateway drug that opens doors for our youth to other illegal and dangerous substances,” he said.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat who represents the 9th Senate District, hosted a panel on marijuana and safe roads at Molloy College in Rockville Centre on Jan. 7. He said that legalization is “inevitable” and changes must be affected to help ensure public safety and health are not harmed. “We must also make sure that elected officials, law enforcement and communities are ready to work together to ensure that public safety is a priority,” Kaminsky said.
With the likelihood that legalization of recreational marijuana is more reality than fiction, Wolff hopes that substance education for young people is improved. “Whatever state money is generated hopefully goes to prevention services, as we haven’t done that much,” she said.
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