SARANAC LAKE — New York legalized recreational marijuana for adult use Wednesday, and local residents spoken to on the street were mostly stoked that it’s now legal to smoke.
Some said they do not use cannabis but support legalization for legal and taxation reasons. Others said they partake daily and were glad their use of the drug is legal now.
“It’s about time”
Locals spoken to Wednesday all said they believe legalization has been a long time coming. That said, some had questions about how the state will keep use of cannabis safe.
“I don’t have a lot of strong thoughts either way, actually,” Sue West of Bloomingdale said. “I’m not really opposed or really in favor.”
While she did not think legalization is a bad idea, her biggest concern was regulating its use while driving.
“How do we determine if someone’s intoxicated driving?” she asked. “For safety reasons.”
“Otherwise, it’s people’s own business,” West added.
Jody Francis of Saranac Lake said the legalization process has taken “way too long.”
“By the way I look at it it’s better than drinking,” Francis said. “To me, alcohol is the gateway drug.”
He said he uses cannabis “every day” for pain management. Legalization doesn’t change much for him, he said.
“It’s not like I really cared anyways. I never thought about it like that,” he said. “I’d rather get it from the guy down the street than the dispensary.”
Francis said he sees a bigger problem with pharmaceutical companies pushing opiates, which has contributed to an overdose crisis. He also said he does not see people fighting while high on weed, like he sees with alcohol and other drugs.
“There’s still a long way to go, changing people’s perception of it,” he said.
Francis also said the North Country’s economy is largely based on prisons, and he said he’d prefer jobs in the cannabis industry to that.
“It could get rid of some of the prisons,” he said.
Shannon Dora, a nurse at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, said she does not use marijuana herself, but “I would rather people smoke marijuana than drink.”
“They should have done it sooner,” Dora said. “Less people will be in jail and being arrested.”
Kiana Roach of Saranac Lake wondered what took the state so long.
“It’s great. It’s awesome. It’s about time,” she said.
Elizabeth Patterson said she smokes to help with anxiety and sees it as a safer, healthier, more natural option to getting a prescription for something like benzodiazepines.
She also believes legalization will make the manufacturing and sale of marijuana safer, too.
“In my eyes it’s like getting rid of the cartel,” Patterson said. “It’s going to be grown in safer conditions.”
Asked what she thinks led to legalization happening now, she said, “I think people are more with the times now.”
No North Country votes
In a late-night vote on Tuesday, the state Senate approved legalization 40-23 and the Assembly approved it 100-49 Tuesday afternoon. No North Country legislators voted for this legislation.
“I have voted to decriminalize cannabis possession in the past, but I believe legalizing recreational cannabis use just goes too far,” state Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, wrote in a statement.
He said his decision was made after speaking with people in the drug recovery community and not wanting to “rush” legalization for tax revenue.
In November, state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said he approves of medical marijuana but would not support recreational pot.
In January, Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, said he would not vote for recreational cannabis.
The state has estimated that the recreational marijuana industry will bring in $350 million in tax revenue annually. New York has committed 40% of that revenue to investing in communities and individuals identified as casualties of the “war on drugs.”
Some details on specifics of the law are still not known and will need be fleshed out in the future.
Immediately, people are able to have up to three ounces (about 85 grams) of marijuana buds or 24 grams of cannabis concentrates on them. Three ounces is around three full Ziploc bags.
Unlike other states that have legalized pot, New Yorkers can smoke it wherever they can smoke tobacco, but local government can create new laws on where that is. Currently, schools, bars and restaurants are on the statewide no-smoke list.
In the future, home delivery of marijuana will be allowed and consumption lounges can be opened. Dispensaries are still more than a year away from being able to open doors, and local governments can choose to opt out of allowing this.
Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said he does not have any plans to opt out of this.
He said in his travels to Massachusetts, a state that has legalized, “There are literally hundreds of people lined up at every cannabis shop every half-mile.” But when he gets to Rhode Island, a state that has not legalized, there’s “nothing.”
“I suspect half of Rhode Island is just a few feet away in Massachusetts purchasing,” Rabideau said.
He said it would not be safe or economical for the village to ban dispensaries.
“It’s better to have control than no control,” he said.
Smoking in the park
Lake Placid village police Chief William Moore said Wednesday afternoon that if marijuana is legal, it’s legal, but he hopes and expects his village’s board members will pass some laws limiting its use in public places. He said they probably don’t want someone smoking marijuana at a youth baseball game or on the sidewalk.
He compared this to the village’s open container law. The point is not to ban alcohol, he said, but to control drinking in public.
“This is going to be a new challenge for the village to navigate through,” Moore said. “They’ll have to get in front of this relatively quickly.”
Smoking tobacco, specifically, is banned in Lake Placid parks and beaches, but this legal language did not anticipate the legalization of marijuana. In 2008, the Lake Placid village board passed a one-page resolution adopting a tobacco-free policy in all parks and beaches. There is no designated penalty for violations.
“Honestly, we’ve never had to really enforce that,” he said. If someone was smoking at the Mirror Lake beach, he said the lifeguard would simply tell them smoking isn’t allowed there.
Rabideau said there is no smoking of any kind allowed in Saranac Lake village parks. He said this was a big deal on the village board before he became mayor.
Tupper Lake village staff said they do not know of any local law prohibiting smoking in parks.