Advocates lobby LI state lawmakers to support legalization of marijuana

June 11, 2019

By Robert Brodsky, Newsday

Community advocates, medical professionals and labor leaders Monday urged Long Island’s state Senate delegation to support a bill legalizing recreational marijuana, with the state legislative session expected to conclude in nine days.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which creates a legal framework to grow and sell cannabis, has the support of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and progressive Democrats in the Senate and Assembly.

But prospects for passage of the bill — which also creates a fund for communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests — have dimmed, in part, due to a lack of support from all of Long Island’s six Democratic state senators. State Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said Long Island lawmakers could be voted out of office next year if they support controversial progressive issues such as legalization and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

At a news conference Monday in Mineola, advocates pushed for a “miracle” in the session’s winding days, arguing that legalization would both hypercharge the economy while providing social justice reform to African American and Latino communities.

John Durso, president of 13,000-member Local 338, which includes members working in the state’s medical marijuana industry, said a comprehensive cannabis policy would provide a boost for Long Island businesses and farmers.

“We would be hiding our heads in the sand by not addressing this issue,” said Durso, who also runs the Long Island Federation of Labor. “It’s not going away. Generations of people have suffered from the laws and a lack of access to the wonders of cannabis.”

Assemb. Taylor Raynor (D-Hempstead) said communities of color have been torn apart by marijuana laws, preventing those who are convicted of possessing even small amounts from securing loans, obtaining housing or employment.

“We gain nothing by pretending that marijuana is not used by adults of all backgrounds,” said Raynor. “When we finally decide to deal in reality we can regulate the product and its ability to ensure quality; a safer supply chain and limit access to people under 21.”

While recent polling shows New York voters support legalizing marijuana by a 55-40 percent margin, the measure has mixed support on Long Island.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, both Democrats, have said they will pursue an opt-out legislation if the state legalizes recreational marijuana. Suffolk’s opt-out has a sunset provision that would make marijuana legal after a year, unless the county legislature votes to continue the ban.

An amended version of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), would give the opt out decision to cities, towns and villages rather than the counties as a whole.

Advocates argued Monday that marijuana legalization is needed to address a “social injustice” where blacks and Latinos are four times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites. Supporters want a process to expunge the criminal records of those convicted in low-level marijuana possession cases.

“This is another example of systemic racism,” said Shanequa Levin, founder and chief executive of the Women’s Diversity Network. “Another example of racial bias. Another example of how we keep the war on drugs and our people down.”

Richard Carlton, a Port Washington psychiatrist and medical marijuana provider, said the pain management properties of cannabis can help treat veterans’ suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while helping stem addiction to heroin and opioids. “Marijuana is a major answer to the opioid crisis,” Carlton said.

Brendan Davison, owner of Good Water Farms in East Hampton, which grows organic microgreens and now has a hemp license, plans to enter the recreational marijuana market if the state legalizes the drug.

He called cannabis a “remarkable plant. It’s for the people and by the people that can heal the people.”