TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — With a resolution passed Tuesday, Tompkins County legislators are urging New York to legalize marijuana.

The resolution supports the passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. The bill, through pending bills in the senate and assemby, would bring an end to marijuana prohibition and would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana under state law.

The resolution was nearly unanimous Nov. 20 with a vote of 13-1. Legislator Mike Lane voted against the resolution, saying he is not convinced this is a stand the county should be taking.

“If you think that promoting vice and making money off of it is a good thing, then I think you ought to vote for this,” Lane said.

Legislator Mike Sigler, who said he did not disagree with Lane, said he doesn’t see much of a difference between marijuana and alcohol. He said he would vote for it because people have a right to do what they want with their bodies.

“If people want to smoke, I don’t think they should be picked up for that. Though I would like to say to them, don’t,” Sigler said. “Drugs aren’t helpful.”

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The county’s resolution has been discussed by the Health and Human Services Committee and Public Safety Committee for weeks. The first version was amended to acknowledge that there could be unintended negative consequences of marijuana legalization. Negative consequences like “risk of dependency, possible desensitization to future drug use, negative cognitive and academic effects” as well as health risks.

Many states have moved to legalize marijuana in recent years. More than 30 states and the District of Columbia allow access to marijuana for medicinal purposes, including New York. Meanwhile, 10 states — including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — have legalized marijuana for adult use.

In August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a step toward legalizing marijuana for recreational use in New York. He announced there would be a series of “listening sessions” on regulated marijuana held across the state in September and October to hear input from communities and stakeholders. The input from these sessions will help a Regulated Marijuana Workgroup draft legislation for an adult-use marijuana program.

As more states have legalized marijuana, public support for legalization has also grown. About 62 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, the latest Pew Research shows. Support has grown a small amount (1 percent) since last year, but support has doubled since 2000 when 31 percent of people supported legalization.

Legislator Anna Kelles said if marijuana is legal, it’s regulated. She encouraged people to read the PBS article, “Unintended Consequences of Prohibition.

“I think it makes things transparent, it makes things above board,” Kelles said.

In addition to general public support, Tompkins County’s resolution supports legalization as a way to reduce mass incarceration and would also have financial benefits for the state.

The New York State Department of Health delivered a report in July assessing the potential impact of regulated marijuana in New York. It found the positives of a regulated marijuana market in New York outweigh the negatives. The report states it could have public health benefits by enabling government oversight of production, testing, labeling, distribution and sale.

Marijuana criminalization has also disproportionately impacted communities of color, the report states. The county’s resolution adds that New York has one of the worst racial disparities in arrests in the United States, with people of color being eight times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people despite similar rates of use.

In sum, the county’s resolution supports “bringing an end of marijuana prohibition;” “the creation of a diverse and inclusive marijuana industry;” “the reinvestment of revenue from taxed and regulated marijuana in communities that were impacted by the war on drugs;” and “the passage of the Marijuana Regulation legalization of marijuana and the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.”

Read the draft resolution below (small adjustments were made in Legislature):

Resolution in Support of Marijuana Legalization in New York State by Kelsey O’Connor on Scribd

Reporter Devon Magliozzi contributed to this report. 

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.