Culture

Viewpoint: New York’s cannabis act is smoke, not mirrors

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The following editorial appeared in the New York Daily News:

The 129 pages of New York’s draft “Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act” were released over the weekend, detailing comprehensive plans for making New York the 15th state to legalize adult-use cannabis. Put the stoner jokes aside: All in all, it’s refreshing to read legislation from Albany that is the product of so much thoughtful deliberation, instead of the often-slapdash, error-riddled bills produced at the 11th hour before the state’s annual April 1 budget deadline.

The overarching achievement here is huge: an end to the chronically discriminatory enforcement of anti-pot laws, and with it a chance to start taxing and regulating a substance that is consumed in relatively safe fashion by millions.

New York’s legislation does that, and mostly does it responsibly. Credit goes to Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Liz Krueger, the bill’s primary sponsors, who crafted it with an eye to repairing multi-generational harms in the war on drugs while setting aside funds to combat addiction.

A serious area of caution remains: the roads. While the bill requires state police to hire more “drug recognition experts,” a special program that trains officers to identify signs of impairment based on ingestion of different substances, there isn’t yet the equivalent for tokers and smokers of a breathalyzer test like what exists for possibly drunk drivers. Instead, the bill requires the state’s health commissioner to pick an institution to conduct a study of the best way to detect cannabis impairment, with conclusions due before Dec. 31, 2022. Why not accelerate that process?

Meanwhile, lawmakers should change one part of the bill before or after passage: Alter the vehicle and traffic laws’ definition of a drug, to forbid driving while physically or mentally impaired by any substance or combination of substances. That would help bring New York closer to conformity with the practice of 45 other states. Stupidly, the outlier Empire State forbids driving after ingestion of any drug on a lengthy list spelled out in New York’s public health law. Fix it already.