BUFFALO, N.Y. — For several years New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes has been leading the charge on legalizing adult-use cannabis.
After Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state leaders said New York is "very close" to getting it done, 2 On Your Side reached out to Peoples-Stokes for her perspective.
"I've said this probably for the last three years, that I anticipate us getting it done this session. But I'm more encouraged this year, and I actually believe it's imminent," she said.
As for what's different in 2021 from other years the state has been "close" to legalization, Peoples-Stokes said, "Well, I think probably New Jersey and their passing of legislation, and just sort of the reality that we're surrounded geographically by states that are moving forward, and quite honestly, the number of New Yorkers who travel now to Massachusetts."
Peoples-Stokes told 2 On Your Side the reason people travel is because they want a safe product.
She said the state's budget deficit may also be a reason legalization could happen this year, as a way to potentially bring in additional revenue.
"If we're able to craft a strategy using my legislation to make it a legal product, make it a safe product, be able to invest in the lives of people who suffered as a result of mass incarcerations, and have additional dollars to support the things we need to have to support New Yorkers, then it's a win, win," Peoples-Stokes said.
But not everyone is sold on the idea.
"We are going to do everything we can in the next days to try to stop this again. This legislation is harmful to children, and there is no other way to look at this legislation," said Kyle Belokopitsky, the executive director of the NYS PTA.
Belokopitsky added, "If you just look at the statistics and how this is going to affect the public safety or driving safety and how this is going to affect children and youth and teens, I have absolutely no idea why they're pushing this forward."
On Thursday, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn plans to hold a news conference, urging state lawmakers to consider "potential public safety implications" if the proposed legislation on marijuana is passed.
Peoples-Stokes said they're listening to the concerns brought to their attention. She said those perspectives are being added to the negotiations.
One issue that's come up is how to address impaired driving.
Peoples-Stokes told 2 On Your Side, "When alcohol was made legal, there was no breathalyzer. That took probably a decade to come up with a method to be able to test someone on the road, whether or not they were impaired, and I think a similar situation will happen with marijuana."
She added, "There will be a number of ways that will be dealt with. One of course would be to do the research to find some sort of method to test roadside, the other would be simple education."
Looking at a potential timeline, Peoples-Stokes said it's likely the legislation will be passed before the budget.
If passed this session, Peoples-Stokes believes by the end of 2022 New York should be ready to go to market.
She told 2 On Your Side, "I don't think there's anything that will keep us from getting this done. I think we just have to keep talking to each other, and it will happen."