By Bill Parry
While Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have embraced the legalization of recreational marijuana consumption in recent weeks, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown wants to slow down the process calling for a robust and thoughtful public debate on the issues.
Brown believes the issue is one for the state Senate and Assembly to hash out.
“The Legislature created the law and I have long said if the law is to be changed, the legislature alone that should change it,” Brown said in a Dec. 20 statement. “It should not be changed simply by ignoring the laws that currently exist.”
The New York State Association of County Health Officials called for Albany to do the same and “approach legislation thoughtfully and with extreme caution,” expressing their concerns about “future high risk” of addiction to other drugs, harmful cognitive and academic effects, adverse cardiac and respiratory events, unintentional exposure to children and motor vehicle accidents.
Earlier this year, the NYSACHO issued a memorandum opposing legalization of recreational marijuana.
“A study in Colorado released just this past September stated that since marijuana legalization in Colorado, marijuana related traffic deaths increased 151 percent and all traffic deaths by 35 percent,” Brown said. “Colorado’s past month marijuana use shows an increase of 45 percent compared to the three year average prior to the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state. Colorado’s past month marijuana use for ages 12 and older is ranked third in the nation and is 85 percent higher that the national average. The yearly rate of emergency room visits related to marijuana increased by 52 percent after legalization.”
The district attorney added that no state which has legalized recreational marijuana has legalized the public burning or smoking while driving. While New York doesn’t intend to, Brown notes the vast majority of arrests for marijuana stems from those activities.
“So however violations of the new law are classified, we may face the same disparity issues we currently face now,” Brown said. “Respectfully I don’t believe anyone can say that legalization is a positive step for our society or our children. If memory serves me correctly, until fairly recently both the governor and the mayor felt the same way.”
City Councilman Rory Lancman, one of three candidates to announce a run for the Queens DA’s office in 2019, took umbrage with Brown’s stance tweeting “and not one word on Black/Brown lives damaged by criminalization?”
“I’m just amazed at the DA’s eagerness to double down on policies that belong in another era,” Lancman said. “His vehement opposition to legalizing marijuana puts a finger in the eye of criminal justice reform. It’s the new Jim Crow with its tremendous impact on people of color who get a lifetime criminal record that inhibits their ability to get an education, a job or housing.”
Borough President Melinda Katz and retired Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak have also announced bids for Queens DA. Richard Brown, 85, has held the office since 1991 but he has yet to determine whether he will run for re-election.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr