April 12, 2021 By Christina Santucci
While the majority of Queens state legislators recently approved the legalization of marijuana – four of their colleagues who represent southern parts of the borough voted against the plan
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. and Assemblymembers Stacey Pheffer Amato, Brian Barnwell and Jenifer Rajkumar all opposed the “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act,” which was signed into law by the governor March 31.
The elected officials did not support the law for a variety of reasons – including concerns that the legislation didn’t address penalties for drivers under the influence of cannabis.
Both Pheffer Amato and Addabbo said that this was their main issue with the legislation, while Rajkumar said she opposed the creation of a marijuana industry in the state.
Addabbo said he was worried that people could be injured in connection to impaired driving and that there are currently no accurate roadside tests to detect marijuana.
“I think we should have waited for technology to catch up to us to give law enforcement a chance to credibly address the issue,” Addabbo told the Queens Chronicle.
It remains illegal in New York State for drivers to operate a vehicle under the influence of marijuana. Under the new law, the state Department of Health will study ways to detect cannabis-impaired driving.
“If you want to smoke a joint and walk to the boardwalk and walk back home, that’s great,” Pheffer Amato told The Queens Daily Eagle. “I support all of it, but I just feel like we could have done more.”
Rajkumar said in a statement that she was against the legalized market for cannabis and was concerned about the health implications of the law.
“I oppose this law’s creation of a marijuana industry in our state. The commodification of marijuana will allow businesses to exploit the health of New Yorkers, much the same way Purdue Pharma exploited people with opioids and Big Tobacco with cigarettes,” she said.
“As the daughter of doctors who work in drug addiction medicine, I have seen firsthand how drug addiction has ruined lives. I know too many constituents who have lost a child to drugs. I could not in good conscience vote for a law that could have a detrimental effect on the health of New Yorkers,” she continued.
The new law makes some recreational use and cultivation of marijuana legal across the state.
New Yorkers – 21 years of age and older – are allowed to possess up to three ounces of marijuana, and the law makes smoking cannabis legal anywhere smoking tobacco is allowed.
The legislation lays the groundwork for a legalized cannabis market. Gov. Andrew Cuomo estimated that taxes on adult-use marijuana could bring in $350 million in taxes annually, and that the new industry could lead to the creation of 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs across the state.
The law also creates a process to automatically resentence and expunge the criminal records of people convicted of low-level marijuana offenses. Rajkumar said she supported the criminal justice reforms in the legislation.
“The automatic expungement of marijuana convictions and the end to the discriminatory enforcement of cannabis laws is a long overdue win for civil rights that will uplift minority communities,” she said.
Barnwell could not be reached for comment.
More than a dozen Queens legislators sponsored the “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act” in the State Senate and Assembly.
The bills were sponsored by state Senators James Sanders Jr., John Liu, Michael Gianaris, Jessica Ramos and Leroy Comrie, and Assemblymembers David Weprin, Alicia Hyndman, Andrew Hevesi, Khaleel Anderson, Clyde Vanel, Jeffrion Aubry, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Zohran Mamdani, Ron Kim, and Catalina Cruz. The other Queens legislators– with the exception of the four– voted for the bill.