The mayor of Ithaca is urging the New York State Legislature to legalize marijuana.
In an editorial to the Times Union, Mayor Svante Myrick says he has "directed the Ithaca Police Department to focus on other issues that will more effectively protect the public."
Myrick tells CNY Central that he is not encouraging the use of marijuana; however, he says there are more important issues to focus on than low-level marijuana offenses, such as hard drug dealers and violent crimes.
"Those are the kinds of direct enforcements that are a priority for us. Marijuana - not a priority," said Myrick.
In his editorial, Myrick urges state lawmakers to put aside partisanship and show compassion by legalizing medicinal marijuana; which, he says, 18 other states and Washington D.C. have already done.
Myrick tells CNY Central that it's his understanding that legalizing marijuana is an issue that has some bipartisan support in New York and the issue could come to a vote in the legislature as early as next year.
"Each Day, thousands of sick New Yorkers are being forced to decide between taking dangerous prescription pills or breaking the law to make them feel better," writes Myrick. "This shouldn't be the case. Medical decisions should be made between patients and their doctors."
In addition to medicinal marijuana, Myrick says the state should consider fully legalized marijuana, even for recreational purposes.
In his editorial, Myrick said "I believe that New York should seriously consider legalizing marijuana; taxing it, and regulating it."
In an interview with CNYCentral, Myrick said he believes the issue now has the support of the majority of voters across the country.
"It will free up law enforcement, if it's legal we can regulate it to make it safer, we can get tax revenue, all of those reasons. The public policy reasons to do it are enormous."
Not everyone is in favor of the proposals. Opponents say that marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead users to other more serious and addictive substances. William Metro from Ithaca said there is a reason marijuana was made illegal to possess and he hopes it remains that way. Metro says he has seen the effects the drug can have on people and families."It has ruined the lives of many people. If you smoke it to excess - it can and will kill you."
Myrick points to Colorado as an example of success. Colorado, he says, has laws to support medicinal marijuana without placing additional pressure on law enforcement. The sales have generated considerable revenue for the state.
In Novemberâ??s election, Washington and Colorado became the first states to vote to decriminalize and regulate the possession of marijuana. Both measures call for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores. However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which means federal agents can still arrest people for it.
"The larger lesson here is that the drug war has failed and continues to bring hardships on average Americans â?? including those who are severely ill," writes Myrick. "Every year, millions of dollars are spent on law enforcement and thousands of young people â?? disproportionately young people of color â?? have their futures destroyed for possession of small amounts of cannabis."
Myrick points out that Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), a proponent of bipartisanship, is sponsoring the bill. He also says he hopes Governor Andrew Cuomo will show the same leadership on legalization that he demonstrated on decriminalization. Cuomo has not yet weighed in on the issue of marijuana legalization.
Myrick says he wrote the editorial in hopes that lawmakers would see it.
Click here to read the full editorial.
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