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Gillibrand, Peoples-Stokes optimistic marijuana will become legal

Nick Lippa

The legalization of marijuana has been a talking point for many politicians over the past few months. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes were in downtown Buffalo Friday to discuss when it may become a reality and what it would mean.

For New York, it would allow several research institutions to study how cannabis could be used for different medical purposes. Residents would be able to grow their own at their homes. From the profit created, some of that money would be invested back in to low-income communities that have been disproportionately hurt over time.

Gillibrand said it’s taken so long just to talk about legalizing marijuana because of the long-standing bias many politicians have had.

“They look at marijuana only in the context of the 60s and hippies and crime,” said Gillibrand, “and they don’t understand that it’s a really powerful drug that’s very important for medicine, for healing, (and) for health and well-being of patience. The way our criminal justice system unfortunately enforces its laws is just racist.”

Gillibrand is currently supporting a piece of federal legislation called the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances.

Canada recently became the second country in the world to legalize the drug and New York is moving closer to doing so after a recent endorsement from the governor’s health commission. Legal Aid Attorney Rebecca Town said legalizing the drug would aid what is a social justice issue.

“Moderate decriminalization has not been able to improve the significant racial disparities linked to marijuana prohibition enforcement,” said Town. “Legalizing marijuana would go a long way towards reducing racial disparities within the criminal justice system. In my experience, the aggressive tactics that are used to investigate marijuana possession are among the primary police practices that lead to racial disparities.”

Black and Latino communities make up 50 percent of the population in Buffalo and are 86 percent of marijuana possession arrests.

Peoples-Stokes said they will be doing five public hearings on legalizing marijuana throughout the state since there already is a bill in place. If the governor does not have a structure on how things should look under legalization by December, she hopes to have a framework by then with comments from people around the state.

“You would also have the ability to grow six plants of your own that would be for you and whoever you would like to share it with,” said Peoples-Stokes. “There’s also an opportunity for people to, unlike medical marijuana, to separate the streams of licenses. Instead of one person having a license for growth, manufacturing, and dispensing… all those licenses will be separate. So it will expand the opportunities of business.”

Peoples-Stokes said the states that have already legalized marijuana have not seen it impact public safety.  The assemblywoman has been pushing for legalization for about a decade now.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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