New York's road to legalizing marijuana

New York lawmakers held a listening session in September that was part of a series of forums for members of the public to weigh in on the possible legalization of recreational use of marijuana. Most of the people who spoke up at the session support making cannabis legal.

After having previously called it a "gateway drug," Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the state Department of Health to do a complete study on marijuana. The results of that study determined that the benefits of recreational use outweighed the risks, which many saw as an endorsement from the state's top doctors.

And although the health benefits of marijuana have been well documented for years, Dr. Yasmin Hurd, the director of Mount Sinai's Addiction Institute, admits she is in the middle in terms of legalization.

"THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, can have some negative effects with psychiatric vulnerability and addiction," Hurd said. "But other components like CBD we see has beneficial effects."

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has not officially endorsed legalization. However, he did champion a new policy in place by the NYPD that decriminalizes marijuana. New Yorkers now caught smoking pot in public could be issued a summons instead of being arrested.

But medical benefits and lesser criminal charges aside, many still oppose marijuana legalization. One of them is Michael Long, the chairman of the state's Conservative Party, who said that legalizing pot would send the wrong message to young people.

"We're finding out now in Colorado the potential birth defects from people using marijuana," Long said. "We're finding out that young people's brains have been somewhat altered because of the use of marijuana."

Long believes New York will likely legalize marijuana at some point. Part of his skepticism is how the state would spend the revenue legal pot would generate.

"I'm not interested in putting our young people into darkness for budget relief," he said. "If that's the case, why not legalize prostitution? Why not legalize a lot of other things that are illegal if we can make money off it? That's not the way to go."