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Take pot legalization out of budget

The Auburn Citizen

Jan. 26

It’s only a matter of time.

All one has to do is look around the country and see the growing number of states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. A day will certainly come when that list includes New York.

As we’ve said in the past, though, New York lawmakers and the governor must make sure they implement legalization in the most responsible manner possible. To that end, we give Gov. Andrew Cuomo credit for including a comprehensive legalization plan in his state budget proposal this year.

But we also have a problem with the governor’s approach: It shouldn’t be lumped in with the massive pile of legislation that becomes the state budget.

Every year there’s a give-and-take between the executive and legislative branches over what measures should be part of the budget and what are taken up separately. There’s technical arguments that both sides can make, and that’s true for recreational marijuana.

For us, the issue comes down to the need for extra public scrutiny. With all of the social and criminal implications that go along with pot use, New York’s legalization bill needs plenty of serious open debate and a straight-forward vote. When measures get buried into the budget, that type of process often never happens. Instead, it becomes a bargaining chip. And it’s often voted on in the middle of the night with little or no discussion.

For an example, look at the mess that has unfolded this year with the criminal justice reforms that were embedded in the budget during the 2019 session. A similar scenario could play out with a poorly written pot bill that’s approved in a nearly $180 billion spending plan.

We don’t expect the governor to remove his proposal from the executive budget. He probably thinks this is the only way to get something done. But lawmakers need to remember their duty to be a check on this governor, and insist that recreational marijuana use in New York state be addressed on its own.

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