Marijuana Legalization Bill ‘Really Close’ After New York Lawmakers Resolve Key Issue

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NEW YORK NOW – A bill to legalize marijuana in New York for recreational, adult use is expected to be introduced in the next few days after Democrats resolved an impasse over concerns about detecting, and enforcing, when someone’s driving while intoxicated by the drug.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, said Tuesday that the issue had been settled, and that staff in the Legislature were working out final language on the bill.

“I think we are really, really, really close on marijuana,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We have gotten past the impasse of impaired driving and are looking to get language that will be satisfactory in the next day or so.”

Stewart-Cousins did not provide details on what would be included in the measure, but said law enforcement agencies may receive more funding to train officers on how to recognize when someone’s impaired by the drug.

“There might actually be some additional money for training because it’s important that people are able to assess what the impairment is,” Stewart-Cousins said. “So, we’re looking at all of those things.”

Law enforcement groups have expressed concerns over how to detect when someone has used marijuana, and what level of intoxication would result in a criminal charge.

Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, the current president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, also said last week that prosecutors were concerned about how to classify such a charge.

Some Democrats had proposed to make driving under the influence of marijuana a traffic infraction, rather than a misdemeanor. Doorley said that could set a bad precedent.

“The classification of driving under the influence of cannabis as a traffic infraction would send the message to the driving public that driving while impaired is no big deal and will be treated the same as a speeding ticket,” Doorley said.

Stewart-Cousins did not say where lawmakers ended up, in terms of how people would be charged if they were found to be driving while impaired by the drug, but said the issue had been a top priority in recent days.

“The impaired driving issue was extremely important,” Stewart-Cousins said.

“And being able to make sure we are able to identify that and make steps toward that, making sure there’s more training or investing in some sort of research to get us to a place where we are able to detect marijuana use at the current time, not some time in the past is what’s extremely important to us.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, a final bill on marijuana legalization had not been introduced in the Legislature. Because of state law that requires a bill to “age” three days, the earliest lawmakers could approve such a bill would be Friday if it’s introduced before Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has the power to speed up that process through what’s called a “message of necessity,” which is when the governor gives the Legislature permission to approve a bill without the aging requirement.

It’s unclear if Cuomo’s office is on board with the upcoming proposal to legalize marijuana, but he’s said in recent weeks that his staff is involved in negotiations.

The bill is expected to be approved before the end of the month. Stewart-Cousins said lawmakers still plan to pass it outside legislation on the state budget, which is due April 1.