To the Editor:
New York is now the 17th state in the union to legalize marijuana. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA, Senate Bill S854A; Assembly Bill A1248) passed with only Democratic votes – no Republicans voted for it.
The Republicans claim their opposition was because the bill was badly written and that it will serve as a kind of gateway for marijuana into our state. Marijuana is already here and is not going anywhere. According to the Washington Post, 55 million Americans have used marijuana at least once in the last year, and a Pew Research Center Poll found that 67 percent of Americans favor legalization.
Before moving on though, you should know that I have never tried marijuana and do not plan to now – legal or not. My comments going forward are about the policy and politics related to this legislation.
The Republican conference insists they vote independently, and that Democrats vote in lock step with party leadership. Not true. For this bill, three Democratic senators and six members of assembly voted against it. Despite this vote tally, is the push to legalize marijuana really just a Democrat initiative? No. Have Republicans led on this issue? Yes.
Montana just passed a legalization bill, too, and their legislature is dominated by Republicans. I suspect our state matches national sentiments, and most New Yorkers favored the change, including Republicans and elected Republican representatives. The problem facing Republican legislators is that they are in the minority and do not get credit like the majority does. If the balance was flipped in New York, I bet Republicans would have led the passage of the MRTA.
Public support would have been on their side, too.
The legislation acts upon the opinion shared by most New Yorkers that a legal framework to regulate and control marijuana is the right way forward. This is not a money grab by the government. The estimated tax revenue will amount to about .001 percent of the total budget – not a noticeable impact, but there will be a noticeable impact on our state’s ability to prevent access to it.
Yes – legalization can help control distribution by using the revenues to support programs that keep it away from minors. I definitely want that to happen.
The Republican vote on this legislation was more a vote opposing the majority than a vote on the bill itself. It is unfortunate that they viewed the bill in this way. Progress is not bound to a party. Progress is bound to the ideas that make our society better, and those that make them happen. Our state still needs more change to bring families and businesses back, especially to Central New York.
Next time, let’s hope members from both parties will view proposed legislation on merit and not on party politics.
Dan Buttermann, Oneonta