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Opinions Mixed In Pa. On Legalizing Marijuana

WARREN, Pa. — Recreational marijuana use is now legal in New York.

If smoking and vaping are legal in a location, smoking pot is legal there, too — according to the state.

There are, of course, differing opinions about that law. And it remains to be seen what impacts the change will have in Pennsylvania.

Warren County borders New York, so it might be convenient for some residents to head north, cross the state line, get some pot, and light up. And, it would be legal for them to do so.

“Of course, I do not see any legal reason why not, if it is legal there,” Warren County District Attorney Rob Greene said. “Marijuana is already here, so will New York legalizing it make it easier to get legally? Of course,”

“I am quite sure they do now, regardless,” Youngsville Borough Police Chief Todd Mineweaser said when asked if Pennsylvanians would be heading to New York to take advantage of the change. “People that like to get high do it whether we have laws on the books or if it’s legalized. They don’t care about laws or rules.”

The Times Observer asked if the change would be a problem.

“Oh, it’s going to have a negative impact on us in PA,” Mineweaser said. “If PA residents decide to drive across the state line to get high I sure hope they don’t attempt to drive back to PA high or possess any drugs because you may get arrested.”

There isn’t even a question that impaired people will be driving back to their homes in Pennsylvania, he said. There is precedent.

“New York being a border state, people will drive there for drugs like they did when the legal drinking age was 18,” he said. “Once people started crashing and dying from DUIs they changed the law.”

For Greene, the subject is not so clear.

“There are a number of factors that need to be looked at as to if New York legalizing marijuana will cause ‘problems’ here to go up or down,” Greene said.

Legal marijuana is likely to be safer than something acquired illegally on the street from someone who is knowingly committing a crime to deliver it, he said.

“The adults using (legally in New York) will know that the marijuana is not laced with fentanyl, meth or some other hard drug,” Greene said. “Legal marijuana will possibly reduce overdose deaths similar to other states that have legalized marijuana.”

“If adults are responsible and not driving while under the influence… and if meth and heroin users decide to stop using hard drugs and only use marijuana… we would have less problems,” Greene said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo mentioned the economic benefits of the new law, saying it “embraces a new industry that will grow the economy.”

The decision does not make sense from an economic standpoint, according to Mineweaser.

“States that are legalizing this drug – Devil’s Lettuce – want your tax money,” Mineweaser said. “They do not want you growing your own and selling it because they want to make money from it, so the government can put the tax funds they make back into society for rehabs, mental health, education, prison reform, etc.”

“Yep, let’s legalize a drug that is addicting, causing mental health issues, low IQ scores, and DUI fatal crashes, and then tell the public that legalizing marijuana is going to be good for America,” he said. “Does this make sense?”

The situation of traveling to New York is “no different than tourists flying to Colorado or out west and using it on vacation,” Mineweaser said. “If people want to get high legally, America is becoming a doper’s dream country.”

“I guess legalizing marijuana in your state is one way for them to attract tourists,” he said. “Do we really want people coming to our great state for drug use?”

“Oh, by the way, wear a mask, keep your distance and wash your hands because the government, CDC and DOH are worried about us becoming ill,” Mineweaser said. “What? Do they care about our well-being or not?”

Even in New York, our hypothetical Pennsylvania user who is at least 21 years old faces some challenges.

There are no recreational dispensaries in place – although they are in the works. Private sale of marijuana is prohibited – ‘delivery’ is still illegal on the books, so you might not be able to give it away. And growing your own will not be legal for months.

“You can’t buy it legally in NY just yet,” Mineweaser said. “I think it’s going to take a year or two for shops to get set up legally. The recreational marijuana law has passed in NY but they still have some work cut out to get the shops setup and that will be the only place you will be allowed to buy it from.”

Possessing marijuana in Pennsylvania is a crime. Moving it across a state line is a federal crime.

We’ll assume our Warren County resident finds a way around all that, gets a small amount of pot, consumes it all (can’t take any back to Pennsylvania), and gets a ride home (can’t drive under the influence). There are still some potential pitfalls.

Some law enforcement agents could charge our user for smoking marijuana in New York.

“Federally, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug and therefore illegal in every state,” Greene said. “However, the 10th Amendment makes it clear that the states control this issue and the laws of the states trump federal law as it pertains to marijuana legalization.”

“But yes, the FBI can still arrest you for having a joint,” he said.

There’s also the possibility that a positive drug test from a legal ingestion would cause her problems down the road.

THC – the active ingredient in marijuana – is detectable in the body for weeks. “In PA, you can legally have it in your system,” Greene sad. “However, you may have an issue if you drive or are tested at work… even if you are not high at the time.”

As an at-will state, employers in Pennsylvania are not required to provide a good reason for letting an employee go. Greene used the following example. “An employer can fire you for using legal marijuana… However, she can also fire you because she doesn’t like the color of your hair.”

The law is on the books, so the impacts in Pennsylvania will be seen in the near future. It could be a significant detriment, or, if people are responsible, it might not be so bad.

“Bottom Line: just like alcohol… ‘adults only and don’t drive!'” Greene said.

“I see lots of problems coming,” Mineweaser said.

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