“We are extremely close. We have reached a little bit of an impasse right now, and it has to do with impaired driving,” Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from the New York City suburb of Yonkers, said during a video news conference this week reported by the Daily News. “We’re trying to figure a way forward so there can be some understanding of safety.”
At issue is the decision whether to equate driving while impaired by marijuana with standard procedures for traffic violations. Sandra Doorley, president of the New York State district attorneys association, weighed in. “The classification of driving under the influence of cannabis as a traffic infraction would send the message to the driving public that driving while impaired is no big deal and will be treated the same as a speeding ticket,” Doorley said.
Meanwhile, the indication that the legislature is considering passing its legalization bill is the fact that Democrats in both houses of the legislation – the Senate and Assembly – recently removed marijuana from their budget proposals.
Disagreements had persisted over use of marijuana revenue, the ability of towns and cities to opt in or out and expungement of past records for minor marijuana offenses. Governor Andrew Cuomo has also disagreed with the legislature on the allocation of marijuana tax revenue. Cuomo wants state control of the funds to be raised, which his staff has projected will be as much as $350 million a year; legislators want instead to spend most of the resulting tax revenue on minority communities due to disproportionate
arrests and incarcerations compared to white offenders.
New York legislators have been debating recreational cannabis for some years but have moved closer to legalization since neighboring New Jersey voters last year passed a constitutional amendment to create a state system to license and regulate a recreational cannabis market.
Cuomo, meanwhile, who has lost considerable Democratic support over several serious allegations of sexual harassment from staffers and other women. may have less influence on the legislature than he otherwise would have.
Despite the scandal swirling around him, he’s been focusing on the legal inequities issue. “I think too many people have been imprisoned, incarcerated, and punished. Too many of those people are Black, Latino and poor,” he said at a closed press conference, according to The News.
Parents’ groups and law enforcement oppose legalization due to safety concerns. But according to MSNBC, Cuomo is eager to move ahead with legalization because, in the words of analysts the news outlet quoted, the popularity of legalization “could have the added benefit of shifting public attention and at the same time notch a win for the state and himself.”
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