NY braces for legal marijuana in Mass.

ALBANY -- A vote Tuesday in Massachusetts to legalize recreational marijuana may have a significant impact on its border state New York.

Law-enforcement officials in New York said they will be monitoring the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts, which will allow for possession of some pot there starting Dec. 15.

Massachusetts won't allow marijuana shops to open until 2018. A vote in Maine to legalize weed was uncertain Thursday, but if approved, it would make them the first two states in the Northeast to do so.

Rensselaer County Sheriff Patrick Russo said the county will have to monitor the Massachusetts law, saying it does impact us a lot." The New York county borders western Massachusetts.

"I can foresee people going over the border from New York buying an ounce and coming back," Russo said. "Or I can foresee them going over there and actively smoking it and then driving back under the influence of marijuana."

While some Democrats in the New York state Legislature have advocated legalizing marijuana, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have shown no appetite to move the measure forward.

It took years for the Republican-led state Senate to approve the use of medical marijuana for sick patients, and the law passed in 2014 is limited to non-smokeable forms for specific illnesses.

But some supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana in New York said the law in Massachusetts may require New York to reconsider its stance.

"It forces electeds to consider certain marijuana-related policies that they could have just avoided for awhile," said Chris Alexander, policy coordinator for New York office of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Bringing marijuana from Massachusetts or Maine to New York, or from any other states where it's legal, is a violation under New York law.

Voters in California and Nevada also voted Tuesday to allow for recreational use of marijuana.

So the three states Tuesday, and possibly Maine, joined Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia in legalizing certain amounts of marijuana.

The Massachusetts law, which is still a work in progress, includes allowing people 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside of their residences and 10 ounces in their homes.

While the state will ultimately tax its sale, marijuana smoking will be banned in public places, the same as with cigarettes.

Assembly Health Committee chairman Richard Gottfried, who supports legalizing marijuana and led the push for the medical marijuana law, said Massachusetts' decision may prompt New York to take a closer look its policies.

For one, states have been lured by the potential for new tax revenue from marijuana sales.

"Massachusetts approving it helps a lot to give the concept momentum and credibility and legitimacy," Gottfried said.

So in terms of what New York ultimately does, the news from Massachusetts is a real boost."

Russo, the Rensselaer County sheriff, said he hopes New York doesn't follow other states' lead, saying he fears it would "put people at risk" and lead to more drug abuse.

State Police said its own policies will not change because of Massachusetts' law.

"State Troopers will continue to enforce New York's marijuana laws as they do now," spokesman Beau Duffy said.
New York moved cautiously with its medical-marijuana program, drawing criticism from advocates.

But earlier this year, the state agree to expand it, such as letting nurse practitioners prescribe it and allow for home delivery. Those new polices are still being developed.

The state Health Department said decisions being made in other states will not influence New York's medical-marijuana program, which started in January.

New York has nearly 10,000 certified medical-marijuana patients and more than 730 registered doctors able to administer it.

"Legalization of marijuana in other states will not impact the program or our efforts to expand patient access to medicine," the agency said in a statement.

"DOH is currently acting on a number of recent recommendations that will further strengthen the program and increase patient access."


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