With reports of "wide divide" in the state houses' debate of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to legalize marijuana, the New York State Association of Counties says lawmakers should say "no to pot" until a more thorough policy plan is developed.
What is before the state Assembly and Senate in the budget bill includes a clause that allows for counties to "opt out" of legalization, should it be passed.
Stephen Acquario, the executive director of the NYSAC, said he has received indications the opt out mechanism would be more localized, potentially resting with cities and towns.
"Regardless of who has opt out authority, meaning which level of local government or state level, the county will still have spill over effects from either neighboring counties or neighboring states," he said, noting that Niagara will inevitably have to deal with Canada's legalization.
Acquario said counties will have to invest resources in public safety, health and education in order to adjust to the new law, even if they chose not to allow recreational use within their borders.
And given the approaching budget deadline, Acquario has doubts a considered policy can be developed. In addition to the county investment, the state will also have to form a sensible taxation policy.
"The level taxation is very important. How that's done is key because we can’t overtax something," he said, adding that pricing out potential consumers could continue to foster an illegal market to operate.
The Niagara County Legislature has formed a committee to evaluate some of the concerns raised by Acquario, and form an opinion as to whether the county should opt out, if a law is passed and the municipality has the ability to do so.
Legislator Jesse Gooch, R-North Tonawanda, who is chairing the committee, said the planned public forums regarding the issue have not yet been scheduled.
"Legalization is dependent on Albany, and the details of Albany’s final plan matter greatly," he said. "We continue to follow the negotiations between the governor and legislature on this issue."
Acquario's organization has previously said that state authorization for the adult use of cannabis should allow for four percent of state tax revenues to be redistributed to the counties.
Tax collection related to the substance was estimated at about $300 million a year, according to Cuomo's administration.
Charles Nesbitt, the NYSAC president, said the money should be used to fund "social services, mental health departments, public safety, addiction services, public health education, traffic safety enforcement, and other local programs."
Even if legalization does not move forward, Acquario said the state has an opportunity to address matters related to the criminalization of cannabis.
"I think the efforts should focus on decriminalization and how to effect communities that were disproportionally affected by criminalization," he said.