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State effort to legalize marijuana goes up in smoke

Sen. Liz Krueger

Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) - who introduced New York's measure to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana - says the effort has gone up in smoke. In a statement released late Wednesday morning, Krueger said "it is clear the measure will not pass this session," but called it only "a delay," not the "end of the road."

"Through months of negotiation and conversation with the Governor's office and my legislative colleagues, we made great strides to improve our bill and bring more people on board," Krueger said. "We came very close to crossing the finish line, but we ran out of time."

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) has been among those most vocal in favor of legalization, but many Republicans, sheriffs and PTAs across the state have been just as opposed.

"We need to legalize adult use for adults over 21, in a regulated market that engages people who are currently in the underground market," Peoples-Stokes said at a public meeting in May. "We need to make sure peoples' records are expunged and/or sealed who have been convicted of low-level marijuana crimes and we also need to make sure there are opportunities for business."

Peoples-Stokes wanted a significant piece of revenue from marijuana sales to be spent in communities hit hard by the drug war.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told WBFO he is one who believes "the world will not come to an end" with the legalization of marijuana. However, he does have two main concerns.

Credit File Photo / WBFO News

"Mainly being the safety of our roads. That's my main concern," Flynn said. "If legalization is passed, that the legislature provides local governments here in Western New York and Erie County enough money to train their officers - who are out on the roads every day - to be able to keep our roads safe."

Flynn said he also wants to ensure that the presence of marijuana does not impair officers to make roadside stops.

"If someone is on the road and is smoking marijuana and an officer pulls them over for a traffic stop and smells marijuana, that the officers will still be able to have probable cause to search the car," Flynn said, "which here in Buffalo, we get a lot of illegal guns off our streets in that regard and a lot of times we find other drugs in the car - heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, you know, more potent, stronger drugs - that we can then prosecute on."

Flynn said criminalization and the threat of prosecution is not always beneficial to low-level drug offenders, but it can be in more serious cases.

Credit Chris Caya / WBFO News File Photo
WBFO News File Photo

"Opiate court, for example, I like the fact that with opiate court I have a hammer over someone's head, because the consequences in opiate court are severe. The consequences are they're gonna die. They're going to go out there and take more opioids and die," Flynn said. "I'm a big believer in opioid court and arresting the person first. I'm going to have some hesitation if we're going to not make arrests on opioid cases, because my concern is these people die."

He said legalization also would mean that every company develops its own rules on drug testing, as companies could still ban marijuana use among its employees, especially those employees who drive for a living.

Krueger said she will continue to push for her measure, "with all the right safeguards in place, one that centers on restorative justice and reinvestment in the communities most harmed by failed prohibition policies."

WBFO's Mike Desmond contributed to this story.