Borrello: There Are No Good Answers When Discussing Legalization Of Recreational Marijuana

MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello left this week’s New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) conference in Albany remaining concerned about the potential legalization of recreational marijuana.

During an interview with WNYNewsNow Friday morning, Borrello said that there aren’t any positives solutions, even after meeting with several officials.

“There’s no really good answer at this point,” Borrello said. “The Governor’s proposal has a lot of gaps in it, in my opinion, which is why I sent the Governor a letter. Right now, in Albany, they are passing legislation very quickly, and it’s very clear that they aren’t doing much due diligence.”

“I know they are passing these things hastily because, according to Assemblyman Andy Goodell, (the State Legislature), they are having to go back and do corrective legislation to fix mistakes they made, which is unusual to do it as frequently as they are doing.”

Borrello said that the bills have a lot of “intentional and non-intentional, negative consequences” on local government.

“I don’t want to see the same thing happen with marijuana legalization, that they quickly pass it and don’t address come incredibly important issues when it comes to regulation.”

The County Executive explained how Axel Bernabe, Assistant Counsel to the Governor for Health, and who Borrello referred to as “the architect of the Governor’s marijuana proposals,” and other state officials met with county executives to present and discuss the proposals.

Borrello said that he was given the opportunity to explain to the officials what he thinks the proposals lack.

“I posed the questions to (Bernabe) and challenged him on some of the things that I believe are missing from the Governor’s proposal,” Borrello said. “That was an opportunity to speak to someone directly who has a direct influence on the Governor’s proposals on this.”

“I’m hoping that Bernabe will bring that back to the Governor as he said he would.”

Borrello said that NYSAC will be lobbying the State Legislature on Feb. 11 to discuss numerous State Budget issues, including the potential legalization of recreational marijuana.

“What we can do is to continue advocating directly with the Governor and our State Legislators,” Borrello said. “Our local legislators, (Assemblyman) Andy Goodell and (State Senator) Cathy Young are also going to be great advocates for common sense. That’s where I’m also lobbying them, as well.”

Borrello said that the organization agreed, as a group, that the key points in his letter to Governor Cuomo needed to be addressed.

The following is the letter, verbatim, that Borrello sent to the Governor:

Dear Governor Cuomo,

The purpose of this letter is to share my thoughts not only as a countywide elected official but also as a local businessperson on important steps and concerns I believe you and the state legislature should consider as you move forward with the legalization of recreational marijuana. Although I personally oppose it, I realize that it appears to be inevitable and I want to prepare our county for it.

I consider us to be fortunate to have our state legislators, Assemblyman Andy Goodell and Senator Cathy Young, working for us. In addition to being champions for Chautauqua County in Albany, they have always been strong voices for common sense in state government. They have already outlined many of my concerns over the potential negative impacts and unintended consequences of legalized recreational marijuana and the actions that should be taken to protect our children, families and communities from the unrestricted use of marijuana.

Senator Young and Assemblyman Goodell have outlined a thorough list of concerns. My list of concerns below, which I have shared with them is more focused on the potential impact on local businesses and communities. Please note that I am avoiding directly duplicating issues already being addressed in our legislators’ list of regulatory concerns.

Overall, recreational marijuana should be controlled in a similar manner as alcohol in New York. Not just as it pertains to its sale but also how, when and where it can be consumed.

Marijuana consumption should have its own “open container” law. It is unlawful in New York to consume alcohol on the street or in any other public setting outside a licensed establishment. The same rules should apply to recreational marijuana in any form for the same reasons.

Consuming marijuana in any establishment with a liquor license should be illegal. In New York, licensed establishments are liable for their patrons’ responsible consumption of alcohol. Therefore, patrons are not allowed to consume alcoholic beverages on the premises of a licensed establishment that were not purchased from that establishment. Allowing marijuana to be brought into and consumed on the premises of a licensed operation will create an undue burden on those operators to control their patrons level of intoxication and the ability to ensure only those patrons over 21 are consuming it. It will create unnecessary additional liability and costs for those businesses.

Selling marijuana-laced food products should not be permitted. The state should be very concerned for children consuming food products containing marijuana. Selling food products like brownies, gummy bears and other kid-friendly foods that contain marijuana will undoubtedly entice minors to try these products. This is a public health concern and a concern for enforcement of laws and rules that prohibit the use of marijuana in certain settings. Imagine trying to police a public event or public venue where literally any food product could potentially contain a legal yet undetectable intoxicating substance.

The use of marijuana in any public assembly venue should be illegal. Once again, the ability to properly control the consumption is the issue. Therefore, public or privately-owned venues like stadiums, arenas, parks, beaches, shopping malls, theaters, etc. should be prohibited from allowing marijuana consumption of any kind. (Not just smoking it.)

The cost of training police officers will be significant to our county. Currently we only have four police officers in the entire county trained and certified to identify people operating motor vehicles under the influence of marijuana so the cost to Chautauqua County will be significant.

Some may argue that state laws restricting the use of marijuana in public places is not necessary and that operators should set their own rules and enforce them. I believe that will create burdens on businesses that will have to police their operation as well as be concerned with neighboring businesses and public areas. For example, in an entertainment district that has multiple bars, restaurants and clubs, having some establishments allowing marijuana consumption with no restriction on its use in public, will create added liability and cause problems for the places that choose not to allow it. It would be the equivalent of removing the restrictions on the public consumption of alcohol.

Our communities and businesses are already heavily burdened here in New York. Adding legalized marijuana into the mix will add to that burden and, in my opinion, the potential revenue will not cover the cost to our communities. If this legalization is poorly thought out and rushed through the process we will pay a heavy price both economically and socially.

Governor, I am asking for your help in advocating for common sense rules and regulations so New York can avoid mistakes made by others and can minimize the cost to our communities.

Thank You.

George M. Borrello

Chautauqua County Executive

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