Don’t be surprised if the state legislature introduces, and passes, legislation to legalize recreational marijuana use among adults next year.

Following a series of listening sessions across the state, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes says two main points have been made.

“One, that it really is time for the legalization of adult use and, two, that it also is the time to eliminate the records of these people, many of who are black and brown, that have been criminalized,” she said.

Additional speakers addressed the need to change the law during a meeting Monday.

These meetings follow a report from the state Department of Health that indicated legalizing marijuana across the state would be an overall positive move, provided cannabis is regulated as it is in other state. 

As she’s been to these hearing and others called by the governor earlier in the year, Peoples-Stokes said she’s starting to better understand the economic significance of legalization.

She wants legislation to carve out opportunity for small businesses.

"I have been on a regular basis, I want to say since April, lobbied by mega-companies about this impending legislation and if they're coming that fast with big dollars, what are the opportunities for people with small dollars," she said.

Among the speakers was Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.

"It is not the role, in my opinion, of a district attorney to give his or her opinion on broad policy matters,” he said.
“My role as a chief law enforcement officer is to enforce the laws that are on the books.”

He did, however, discuss what he believes are the pros and cons of the legislation. Flynn agreed minorities have been disproportionately prosecuted for marijuana-related charges but also says the bill has the potential to limit law enforcement's ability to search cars and seize illicit guns and other materials.

He also said the training necessary could amount to an unfunded mandate for police departments.

"There's definitely going to be a cost component to this. No doubt about it," he said.

Peoples-Stokes said all sorts of interests are competing for a piece of the revenue a legal marijuana industry will create, but her priority is the impoverished communities penalized by the current law.

She expected the governor to include a legalization bill in his budget and is pushing for that component to be included.