BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A comprehensive New York State Health Department report recommending the legalization of marijuana potentially represents an evolution in the perception of the drug for policymakers.
For Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, much of the information was familiar.
"A lot of the research that they used is the exact same research we used to establish our legislation," she said.
The Buffalo Democrat first introduced the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act in the Assembly in 2013 and has carried it every year since.
"I was encouraged in January when the governor mentioned that he was going to have his health department do some research and I think what they came up with is equally as encouraging," Peoples-Stokes said.
She said she'd like the legislature to take up her bill, sponsored in the state Senate by Democrat Liz Krueger.
"I'm going to fight like... to make sure that that happens. I think it should because it kind of covers all the bases," she said.
If Assembly and Senate leadership decided to develop their own bill, Peoples-Stokes said it's important to incorporate at least several components from hers. The report recognizes black citizens are arrested for marijuana offenses disproportionately more than white ones and the resulting criminal records affect peoples' lives. The assemblywoman wants to address that.
"I think that the records should be sealed, upon legalization, of people who have previously been convicted and I also think there should be a significant amount of resources invested in those communities that have been disenfranchised as I result of mass incarceration," she said.
Legalization will likely face a tougher path in the currently Republican-controlled state Senate but Peoples-Stokes believes with several influential members of the party lobbying for the bill, it will eventually pass.
In a statement, state Senator Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, questioned the timing of the report, released a day after a former top state economic development was found guilty in a high-profile bid-rigging trial.
“The timing of this report is very convenient and with the recent convictions related to his administration, it seems like Gov. Cuomo is just looking for a legitimate reason to light one up," Ortt said. "While this report highlights some of the benefits of legalizing marijuana, it also supports some of the concerns that many have regarding the drug. It is certainly something that I will take a look at in depth and look forward to discussing next session.”