Tompkins County Legislature Building

The Tompkins County Legislature has been dealing with a number of controversial topics recently, and at the forefront has been the decision of whether to voice support for marijuana legalization in New York as the state government discusses a bill that would legalize recreational use of the drug. 

In a vote of 13 to 1, with Legislator Mike Lane opposed, they voted to approve a resolution informing New York State officials in Albany that Tompkins County supports the legislation currently being debated at the state level which would legalize marijuana statewide. However, this resolution didn’t pass without some deliberation.

Many of the problems that Lane had were not with the resolution, but rather how marijuana is a vice similar to alcohol, tobacco, and gambling. He was also concerned with marijuana become a corporate-driven product like tobacco, and how this can result in an increase of people driving under the influence of marijuana.

Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne wanted to know more about what happens to people who have been arrested and incarcerated for possession charges. According to a fact sheet about the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the legislation now being debated by the NYS Senate, people who have been convicted of low-level possession (including possession in public view) and low-level sale will have that conviction vacated from their record. Other offenses related to possession, whether it was a misdemeanor or a felony, will be reclassified or sealed. For those who are currently incarcerated on these offenses, they would be released or the offense would be reclassified with the sentence appropriately reduced according to the new statute.

Shawna Black, the chairperson of the Health and Human Services committee, said the reasons for passing the resolution outweigh any of the potential cons. She spoke about how there has been a wave of support for marijuana legalization, since it can provide states with a great influx of capital. Black also spoke about how smoking marijuana will happen with or without the MRTA there to regulate it.

Legislator Deborah Dawson found Lane’s comments somewhat inconsistent with research about marijuana. She voiced her thoughts on how marijuana has gone from being thought of like a drug to being used to treat serious medical illness. Dawson also opined that marijuana is not a vice or an addictive drug.

While the public’s view has certainly softened on marijuana in the last several decades, there are still some reservations, however faint, among certain governmental bodies. The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention call the likelihood of fatally overdosing on marijuana “unlikely,” but continues that “doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless,” citing symptoms of overuse as anxiety, paranoia, nausea, vomiting, and similar impacts, which can also endanger the user through things like motor vehicle crashes or a physical fall.

There has also been concern about the proliferation of synthetic marijuana, as well as widespread hesitation to legalize the drug due to its framing as a gateway drug, causing the fear that it would lead to more serious drug usage. Synthetic cannabinoids, according to the CDC, are plants sprayed with unknown chemicals which can be dangerous and unpredictable. Synthetic cannabinoids are not marijuana, but like marijuana’s active ingredient THC, they react with the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain and other organs. The CDC has shown that cannabinoids can be more powerful than natural marijuana.

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