The other day in downtown Cooperstown, a kitchen worker stepped out onto Main Street’s sidewalk in the middle of the day, lit a joint, took a few tokes and went back to work.
You might think, get used to it. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Legalization of marijuana, which the ascendant Democratic majorities in the state Legislature and Governor Cuomo expected to become law in January, has foundered over a number of issues.
When trouble arose, the governor’s fallback plan was to include legalization in the FY20 state budget that passed April 1.
A state budget is a cloak for a myriad of controversial issues. The single budget vote, required by April 1 under the state Constitution, gives assemblymen and state senators deniability if constituents try to make them accountable on any single issue – like, say, legalizing pot.
As early as mid-March, however, Cuomo was seeing “a wide divide on marijuana. I believe ultimately we can get there. I believe we must get there. I don’t believe we get there by April 1.”
He was right, and legalized pot may go up in smoke.
So now, where are we? The Buffalo News divided the issue into three parts:
- THE MONEY: The governor came around to using much of $300 million in taxes the bill was expected to generate for “community reinvestment.” But the Assembly wants the bulk of that to go into minority communities that have “borne the brunt of the war on drugs.”
- THE LICENSES: The sticky question is “who would be allowed to grow, process, distribute and sell” marijuana. The governor’s bill proposes 13 licenses; the Assembly’s 10. No one seems to want corporate behemoths from seizing control of the process, seed to pipe, and extracting profits accordingly. But how to achieve that is daunting.
- CRIMINAL PENALTIES: Cuomo wants to make having up to an ounce of marijuana legal; the Assembly, two pounds. (The New York State Sheriffs Association doesn’t want legalization at all.)
Then there are the “opt-out” provisions, allowing counties to block legalization in their jurisdictions. The two big Long Island counties, Nassau and Suffolk, have already signaled they’re opting out, as have Rockland and Putnam in the Hudson Valley.
Locally, county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. supports that option for Otsego, who said “we should learn from what other states are doing.” In Colorado, “there’s been a dramatic increase in traffic-related deaths and accident,” as well as an increase in crime.
County Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Mount Vision, a NYSAC board member, briefed her colleagues in February, but said that other day she’s unaware of any discussion among county board members since then.
“We’re waiting to see what happens,” said board Chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield. “We don’t want to speculate on something that may or may not happen.”
When the conversation does start, Devlin said he plans to share his point of view and sheriffs’ association data with county reps.
For now, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, in an analysis in the past few days, said there’s no certainty that, as a stand-alone bill, legalization can even pass the state Senate, despite Democrats achieving control Jan. 1.
The opt-out provision is also in play. The Assembly is now proposing that cities and towns, not counties, decide whether to opt-out or not. Kennedy said, last she knew, that only applied to cities and towns with populations over 100,000.
Which, if legalization passes, would drop the hot potato in the county board’s lap.
In the college town of Oneonta, where “Stoneonta” T-shirts are a common fashion statement, a live-and-let-live attitude is more likely to prevail.
In Cooperstown – home of mom, apple pie and the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, a mecca for youngsters, including thousands from Dreams Park in Hartwick Seminary and All-Star Village in Oneonta – there could be a different story.
It’s likely Otsego County won’t be in happy unanimity on this matter.