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‘Deal With These Issues Now’

Teresi: Unanswered Recreational Marijuana Questions Remain

Like many New Yorkers, the New York Conference of Mayors wants to know how exactly state officials will roll out the legalized use of recreational marijuana.

During the annual winter conference for NYCOM, Sam Teresi, Jamestown mayor, said the issue of adult recreational cannabis was discussed by NYCOM’s executive committee along with several breakout sessions and guest speakers discussing the hot-button topic. He said the focus was on case studies from other states, of which there are 10 and Washington, D.C., that have legalized marijuana. Also, NYCOM officials discussed how it will be regulated and the procedures that will need to be in place if the state Legislature does approve legalizing recreational marijuana use.

Teresi said one of the main areas of concern is how law enforcement agencies will be able to enforce whether someone is impaired from marijuana use while driving a vehicle.

“The additional pressure that is expected to be put on local law enforcement agencies without any clear direction of how the issue of being intoxicated or impaired by what will be a legal substance, like alcohol, how it will be enforced or could be enforced. There are test available, specifically a blood test is available to alert whether the substances is in the blood stream, which is similar of a test for alcohol. However, (marijuana) can be consumed up to a month ago and no longer leave an intoxicated or impairment effect on an individual, but show up on the test,” he said. “Local governments will need to strongly communicate with the state Legislature and the governor that they will need to come up with regulations and a test that can give clear direction from an enforcement standpoint.”

Teresi also said state officials will also need to develop regulations when it comes to the workplace. He said employers cannot have workers operating heavy machinery while under the influence of marijuana. The mayor also questioned how supervisors will be able to accurately test workers to tell whether someone is impaired while on the job.

“(Legalizing recreational marijuana) creates a whole new series of problems as far as enforcement, requirements and policies,” he said.

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“We want (state officials) to deal with these issues now before any attempts to legalize the substance. We are encouraging legislators and the governor to study this to know what works and what doesn’t work, and what is unique to New York state to have the answers to the questions that will have an impact at the local level.”

The mayor said if marijuana use is legalized, the policy being discussed by state officials would provide very little to local governments of the estimated $300 million in sales tax the legalized selling of pot is supposed to generate.

“The current plan is for the state to keep nearly all of it,” he said. “Two percent would go to counties and nothing for local governments. Local governments are going to be on the ground floor dealing with it. The feeling of my colleagues is that the revenue needs to be shared with local governments, but currently there is no provision for that.”

Teresi said NYCOM as a collective group didn’t come to a consensus on whether the state Legislature should legalize recreational marijuana use because the mayors from villages and cities were divided on the issue.

“NYCOM didn’t come out for it or against it,” he said.

Teresi said NYCOM has endorsed attaching state and local sales taxes to internet sales in the state of New York. He said there is hundreds of millions of dollars that could be realized for the state and local coffers.

“There is also a fairness factor for our businesses and citizens who are employees of local businesses who are here paying taxes, investing in payroll and benefits and have buildings and infrastructure,” he said. “They have an unfair competitive advantage by collecting sales tax and going up against internet businesses, some of which aren’t located in the country, that are able to sell to local people with no mechanism to force them to charge sales tax.”

On June 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in South Dakota v. Wayfair that sellers can be required to collect sales taxes in states where the sellers do not have a physical presence, overruling the 1992 case of Quill v. North Dakota. North Dakota law now requires remote sellers to collect North Dakota sales and use tax on their sales into the state, which could also be done in New York if state legislators pass a similar law.

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