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Gov. Cuomo pushes for recreational marijuana; local reaction polarized


Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday urged the New York State Legislature to legalize recreational marijuana in an address in New York City. The move would make New York the 11th state in the country to take the step.

Reaction in Monroe County has been mixed, and advocates said they are still unsure what the regulations might ultimately look like.

“We must also end the needless and unjust criminal convictions, and the debilitating criminal stigma, and let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all,” the governor said, issuing a forceful but vague call for relaxing regulations on the drug.

Steve VanDeWalle, development director at Rochester NORML, which has been pushing for recreational marijuana, said it’s not clear whether New York will loosen restrictions a little bit, or take a route more akin to Colorado’s laws, which allow people to grow marijuana in their own homes, and allow growers to also be sellers.

Either way, he said, he expects legalized recreational marijuana to be an economic boon for the Rochester region.

“Rochester and western New York is a gold mine for cannabis,” said VanDeWalle. “We have the urban infrastructure to really have full manufacturing for cannabis.”

VanDeWalle also pointed to the region’s climate and large area of agricultural fields as another reason cannabis growing could be especially lucrative.

“It’s perfect for growing both hemp and marijuana, whether it’s indoor or outdoor,” VanDeWalle said.

But Dave Attridge, who founded Recovery Now NY and is in long-term recovery for his own addiction, said economics should not be a primary concern. He said legal marijuana is likely to open the door to more drug abuse.

“Pot was what started my addiction, and it led me from the pot into cocaine, into the heroin,” Attridge said.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has said that more research is needed to determine whether marijuana leads users to other, harder drugs, though it also cites some research “consistent with the idea of marijuana as a ‘gateway drug.’ ”

Gates Police Chief James Van Brederode also said he’s seen marijuana act as a gateway. But his concerns also centered on the potential for the state to “put the cart ahead of the horse.” He called it “typical” of the state to “implement the law first to make everyone happy, and then let law enforcement and the courts figure out” how to actually make the regulations work in practice.

Van Brederode also challenged the governor’s characterization of marijuana legalization as a social justice issue, calling it “a myth.”

He said he called the Monroe County Jail -- which he said has a population of about 1,400 people -- and asked how many people were there because they were caught with a small amount of marijuana.

“There was nobody sitting in the Monroe County jail on a simple marijuana pinch,” he said.

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.