Legal marijuana in New York? Lawmakers hold hearing

The New York State Assembly held a public hearing Thursday to discuss the proposed Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, a bill that would legalize the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for adults over 21.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the chair of the health committee, said several states now tax and regulate recreational marijuana.

"I think that's long overdue here in New York," he said.

Over the past 20 years, more than 800,000 people in New York State have been arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

"In New York City in 2016, 18,000 arrests for marijuana procession alone," the Law Enforcement Action Partnership's Neill Franklin said. "$325 a day to incarcerate somebody in the city. That's a lot of money."

Support for decriminalizing and legalizing pot has been growing nationwide.

Just across the Hudson River in the Garden State, the mayor of Asbury Park said he has no problem with medical or recreational marijuana if it is legally dispensed and taxed.

New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy said legalizing pot is a top priority.

In New York, though, it is up for debate. Barry Virts, the sheriff of Wayne County, near Rochester, and the incoming president of the New York State Sheriff's Association said he has some concerns.

"Legalization will result in an increase in the use of marijuana and at the same time would trivialize the negative effects, which could lead to further more serious drug use, especially for our youth," Virts testified.

But medical professionals who testified said studies show that states that have legalized the substance have seen a decrease in pain medication overdoses.

The average rate of opioid-overdose deaths in states with legal medical marijuana was 25 percent lower than in states without medical marijuana, according to Dr. Julia Arnsten, a professor at Montefiore Medical Center.

Assemblyman Gottfried said the bill could come to the floor of the Assembly later this year.