QUEENSBURY — North Country residents came out overwhelmingly in favor of the legalization of marijuana at a listening session on Sept. 6, citing the health benefits for managing chronic pain and the potential to create jobs in the state.
About 50 people attended the forum at SUNY Adirondack’s Northwest Bay Conference Center. It was the second of 15 listening sessions scheduled around the state to get input into the creation of an adult recreational use marijuana program. A work group is preparing to draft legislation for the upcoming session.
A report commissioned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo found a licensed and regulated marijuana program could generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue dollars for the state and reduce the incarceration of minorities.
The report shows that a total of $248 million and $678 million in tax revenues could be collected. The low end assumes a sales tax rate of 7 percent and a marijuana rate of $297 per ounce. The high end assumes a 15 percent tax rate and a sale price of $374 per ounce.
People cited the health benefits for conditions such as mental health and pain.
Kaye Smith of Chester said she suffers from severe pain but is fearful of taking opioids.
“I don’t want to get high — I really don’t need to get high — but God, I need some pain relief,” she said.
Britta Kuo of Schenectady said she suffers from epilepsy and believes that marijuana should be legal and people should be able to grow their own.
“I don’t want to have to go to Vermont,” she said.
Others cited economic development. Mace McCann of Lake George, a student at SUNY Plattsburgh’s Queensbury campus, said he would to work in this field and not have to leave the state.
“My main concern is employment and missed opportunities,” he said.
Brigid Martin of South Glens Falls said legalization marijuana would make good use of agricultural land and empty retail space.
Sergia Coffey of Milton said she believes that the war on drugs, especially with regard to marijuana, was racist because it affected communities of color disproportionately.
“We have filled our prisons with people for drug crimes,” she said.
Another concern was that the state would overcomplicate the process.
Scot Trifilo, co-founder of Fiorello Pharmaceuticals, which is one of only two New York-based medical marijuana growers in the state, said that the state has to make it easier for the small businessperson to grow marijuana.
“The barrier to entry on the medicinal side was horrendous,” he said.
Jack Lebowitz of Queensbury said New York should look to other states on how to develop a lightly regulated program.
Steve Ruzbacki, who is running for state Senate as a write-in candidate, said people should have the right to grow marijuana plants on their property.
Government officials also weighed in.
Chester Supervisor Craig Leggett, whose town is home to medical marijuana manufacturer Etain, cautioned the state not to pass down unfunded mandates to the counties for this regulated program. He wondered what the impacts would be to sheriff’s offices, district attorneys and public defenders.
“Look down to the fine details of how this will affect all of us,” he said.
No representatives from law enforcement spoke at the meeting.
Washington County Treasurer Al Nolette said he has the displeasure of watching a loved one live with chronic pain. He also hated that he just foreclosed on 46 properties because of people who couldn’t pay their taxes.
Nolette sees legalized marijuana as helping people and providing tax revenue to state and local coffers for prevention efforts and community reinvestment.
A couple ofspeakers urged caution.
Amanda West, executive director of the Council for Prevention for Warren and Washington Counties, said that its most recent survey shows that students in grades 7-12 are using at a much higher rate than the state average.
“These students also report driving while using or under the influence of marijuana,” she said.
She worried that none of the tax revenue gained from legalized marijuana would go toward prevention efforts.
Shelly Craver, coordinator for the Community Coalition for Family Wellness, said research shows that people’s brains are still developing until age 25. She said she also wanted funds for prevention education, “especially when we’re telling kids that it’s legal, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe for them.”
There are 13 additional sessions scheduled throughout the state. For more information on regulated marijuana, visit: https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/regulated_marijuana/.