New York Counties Skeptical Of Marijuana Legalization

By Kelly Burch 02/25/19

In the more rural counties upstate, sheriffs and others are concerned about the effect that marijuana legalization will have on road safety.

man palming a marijuana plant

As New York state moves forward with plans to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, some counties in the state are expressing skepticism and considering whether to “opt out” of recreational cannabis. 

If marijuana is legalized in New York, counties may be able to stop marijuana businesses from operating within their boundaries, according to WKBW Buffalo. 

Chautauqua County in Northwest NY is one of the counties that is wary of marijuana legalization, according to Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello. 

"It's irresponsible to legalize recreational marijuana," he said, adding that the bill being considered by the state does not make the rules around recreational cannabis use clear. 

Niagara County Legislator Jesse Gooch said that he does not have a strong opinion on marijuana legalization, but he would like to hear from his constituents about their concerns. Because of that, he plans to host community forums to discuss whether Niagara County should opt out of legalization by not allowing marijuana to be bought, grown or sold in the county. 

"I would like to set up a couple of open forums where we invite the public residents to come in and really just talk it out,” Gooch said. 

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed opposition to legalization as little as two years ago, but now supports a bill to legalize recreational use for people over 21. He has essentially said that the move is inevitable. 

"It's a false choice legalize marijuana or not, because we are there already,” Cuomo said, according to WIVB

Despite that, law enforcement in New York has been against legalization. In the more rural counties upstate, sheriffs and others are concerned about the effect that marijuana legalization will have on road safety, according to Thomas Dougherty, Livingston County Sheriff.

Dougherty said officers will need to be specially trained to detect whether a driver is operating under the influence of marijuana. 

"I don't know many agencies that can afford to have a full force of [drug recognition experts], some of the largest counties have 3 or 4. Again we have major concerns on what will be the fiscal impact," he said. 

Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Health Commissioner, said that since she has no say in whether marijuana use is legalized, she’s just doing her best to prepare for how that may impact public health in the county. 

"We know that you can get addicted to marijuana. That's a known fact, even though people don't believe that,” she said. “In states where marijuana has been legalized, they've seen a much higher incidence of impaired driving and very serious motor vehicle accidents compared to states where marijuana has not been legalized for recreational use.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.