ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — For Roc NORML, the local chapter of a national group focused on reforming marijuana laws, legalization in New York would mean a victory lap. Adult recreational use is a major topic on Albany’s agenda for 2021.
“It’s the third year really that the conversation has been taken seriously by the Governor’s office,” said Mary Kruger, Roc NORML’s Executive Director.
New Yorkers are taking it seriously as well. Studies done last month show a majority of people approve of legalizing marijuana. State Assemblymember Harry Bronson (D-138) has put his support behind the legislation, spearheaded by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-141). But Bronson says this bill is about something more.
“It’s also the realization that the criminalization of the use of marijuana really has hurt our Black and Brown community,” Bronson said.
He says the revenue generated from marijuana sales could add an estimated $436 million dollars to the already strained state budget. Both Bronson and Kruger agree a good portion of the money needs to go back into minority neighborhoods.
“We in the Assembly want a lot of those funds to go to the communities that have been underserved,” Bronson said.
“Workforce development, GED programs, or maybe fixing sidewalks or roads, things that those communities are lacking,” Kruger said.
Both Kruger and Bronson say this is also about equity when it comes to starting a legal marijuana business; they want to make sure major companies don’t take away all the opportunities.
“We want to make sure that regular folks can participate in this industry,” Bronson said.
Some, like Assemblyman Brian Manktelow (R-130) are on the fence. He said Tuesday, “This has been talked about for the last few years in Albany, will it actually get to the floor for a vote this year? Still not sure. Once I see the bill I will then reach out to the residents that I serve and get their input first of all. Then I will take a look at the pros and cons. I’ve always kept an open mind until the actual facts are in bill form.”
State Senator Pam Helming (R-54th District) said Wednesday, “This debate should be guided by facts and data. All parties need to be brought to the table including law enforcement, educators and the medical community. New York has a spending problem and marijuana legalization will not fix that. We should be talking about our local economic recovery plans, starting with getting people back to work safely.”
Some law enforcement organizations have raised concerns locally, fearing an uptick in driving under the influence of marijuana on the roadways.
Even if this bill passes, Kruger says the pot fight will reach another level, adding it will be about, “making sure that consumers continue to have rights and access to affordable and high-quality cannabis.”
Bronson says negotiations on the legalization legislation should begin in a few weeks, with the budget due to be passed before, or on the deadline of, April 1.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to push for it,” he said.