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Governor pushes hemp farming, decriminalization, as NYS allots more drug addiction funds

An expansion of industrial hemp farming was one of Governor Cuomo’s proposals at his regional State of the State address in Syracuse. The proposal comes the same week the state allots more money to fight drug addiction.

"I think this could be a great economic opportunity for the Southern Tier," Cuomo said about hemp farming.

At the moment, industrial hemp can only be grown through research projects connected to Morrisville State College or Cornell University. The number of sites that can grow it is capped at 10. Cuomo wants to change that.

"We’re gonna lift the cap on all hemp farming, let private market come in, let private farms be constructed," he said. "And it'll partner with the Department of [Agriculture] and Markets to make sure we're developing the industry correctly." 

Cuomo also plans to host a “hemp summit” in the Southern Tier, but hasn't given a date for that.

Two Southern Tier lawmakers, State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats) and Assemblymember Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell) have sponsored laws to encourage an industrial hemp industry in the state. A pilot program for industrial hemp began in 2016. 

In a statement, Lupardo said, “When the Federal Government gave the green light in 2014, I knew the Southern Tier was an ideal spot given our rich farming history and the amount of available land. New York is poised to be a leader in this expanding industry and I thank the Governor for recognizing its value to our region and state.”

The Governor also wants to lessen the penalties for possessing a small amount of marijuana.

Under current state law, most people caught with small amounts of marijuana for the first time receive a fine akin to a parking ticket. However, officers can still arrest someone if the marijuana was in public view.

Cuomo's proposal would change that by completely decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot. Even so, criminal penalties would remain for dealers or for people who use marijuana in public or while driving.

Cuomo argues that most people arrested for minor possession are non-violent, otherwise law-abiding people who do not deserve the potentially devastating effects of a criminal record.

Meanwhile, efforts to help those struggling with drug addiction are getting a boost in upstate New York. State officials on Thursday announced $8.1 million in state funding to help addiction treatment programs in seven counties in Western and Central New York and the Capital District.

In Western New York, the dollars will be allocated among Lake Shore Behavioral Health ($252,000 for 100 OTP slots) and Renaissance Addiction Services ($1,496,000 for 15 Residential Services beds) in Erie County, the Woman's Christian Association of Jamestown in Chautauqua County ($700,000 for 20 Residential Services beds) and the Council on Addiction Recovery Services in Cattaraugus County ($1,900,000 for 20 Residential Services beds).

The money is part of a broader, statewide effort to bolster addiction treatment and recovery services around the state. Cuomo says the money will save lives by allowing more New Yorkers to get the help they need.

“The availability of these new treatment beds and opioid treatment services can be a lifeline for the individuals and families who will benefit from them," said State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez. "They are more than just slots at a treatment program. These new services represent an opportunity for a second chance, a new life and hope for a better tomorrow for each person that we serve in our system of care, along with the people who love and support them.”

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