CORNING - City and county officials, along with local police, recently spoke to the City Council Legislative Committee in opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Frank Coccho, D-6, chair of the Legislative Committee, which will next meet at 2 p.m. April 25 at City Hall, said the committee will likely make a recommendation to the full City Council on the proposal in early June.
City Manager Mark Ryckman and City Police Chief Jeff Spaulding spoke to the committee about their concerns with the plan to legalize recreational cannabis and establish state dispensaries.
“Gov. Cuomo is proposing decriminalizing marijuana possession for recreational use,” Ryckman said. “There currently is some limited medical use in the state. He has proposed a 22 percent tax, in which the state would keep 20 percent of the tax and the counties would get 2 percent.”
Ryckman said cities, towns and villages would get none of the new revenues.
“We will be dealing with the issues locally, and we will have no additional income,” Ryckman told the committee.
Ryckman said another trouble point of Cuomo’s proposal is prohibiting employers from taking action against employees consuming cannabis during non-work hours. He said he's tried to get clarification on the issue from the New York Council of Mayors.
“So if they are legally consuming cannabis outside of work the employers cannot prohibit that,” Ryckman said. “One of my concerns is: How do you deal with police officers, firefighters and department of public works crews?”
Ryckman said Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard has also unsuccessfully tried to get a clear answer on that question.
“There are troubling things in general about the proposal,” Ryckman said. “(Cuomo) tried to push this through the state budget process. It wasn’t included in the final state budget but everybody anticipates its going to be debated later this year.”
Ryckman said under the proposal, if approved, only county legislatures and some large cities in the state can opt out of allowing establishing dispensaries in their county or city.
“Right now, I'm not sure if we could convince the Legislature to do that,” said Steuben County Legislator Hilda Lando, D-Corning.
Legislature Vice Chair Carol Ferratella noted that since state lawmakers haven't put forward a proposed law yet, there hasn't been much formal or informal discussion on the county's position.
Spaulding said he thinks the number one concern with legalized marijauna is the quality of life in the City of Corning.
“People are going to consume (marijuana) in their homes or apartments,” Spaulding said. “Homes in the city are so close. If the window of the people consuming marijuana and nearby neighbors are open, the people not consuming marijuana are going to smell it. Those people will then contact the police with a complaint and there is nothing we can do.”
Spaulding said from the perspective of the Corning Police Department and that of the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office, legalizing marijuana for recreational use is a very ill-conceived idea.
“We are going to have increased problems in the community,” Spaulding said.
The New York State Police Chiefs Association and the New York State Sheriff’s Association are both dead set against the legalization of marijuana, Spaulding said.
Since Colorado legalized marijuana in January 2014, traffic safety has greatly decreased and 69 percent of self-described marijuana users admit to driving after using marijuana, Spaulding said. Traffic deaths in Colorado involving drivers that tested positive for using marijuana have more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, according to Spaulding.
“Legalizing marijuana for recreational use is not going to stop illegal marijuana sales and the statistics in Colorado have shown that illegal sale of marijuana has continued to grow,” Spaulding said.
City Councilman Chris Karam, R-3, said that contradicts the original understanding that legalizing marijuana would eliminate illegal trafficking of the drug.
“That’s right,” Spaulding said. “In my opinion, I think what happened in Colorado gives you the best idea of what New York has to look forward to. Increased crime, increased traffic fatalities, crime rates not only for non-violent crimes, both the ancillary crimes as well as the larcenies and the quality of life issue.”
Coccho said he is against Cuomo’s proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
“I’m totally against it,” Coccho said.
Mayor Bill Boland said he has no comment on the legalization of recreational marijuana at this time.
“[I'm] still gaining some information on the (proposal),” Boland said.