Watertown hosts recreational marijuana listening session

WATERTOWN — Community members offered thoughts about the state’s possible legalization of recreational marijuana during the Watertown “listening session”Thursday night at Jefferson Community College’s Sturtz Theater.

The goal of these sessions — based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s multi-agency study group report about recreational marijuana — is to allow public comment about the final legislative proposal being presented to the Legislature in the upcoming session.

The report, released in July, found that the positive impacts of a regulated marijuana program outweigh the negative effects.

Of the estimated 70 people who showed up for Thursday’s session, about 20 stepped up to the microphone to give testimony.

A majority of those who spoke were in favor of legalization, with common themes revolving around economic, social and agricultural benefits.

Mark Parker said he has lived in Colorado the past five years and emphasized how the North Country could be economically “booming” if recreational marijuana is legalized.

“This is my gold rush,” Parker said. “This is going to get our country out of debt and create millions and millions of jobs from growing, selling and finding cures.”

Frank Lochlin, a St. Lawrence County resident, agreed with Parker and also said the social aspects of cannabis are important to consider. He said he encourages policy makers to go somewhere where marijuana is legalized to know what it looks like when “normal people use cannabis.”

Several attendees echoed each other, saying the agricultural aspect of growing cannabis would help restore the farming community in the North Country.

For those who opposed, many of whom are prominent figures in the public health sector, much of the conversation was geared toward marijuana being a “gateway drug” and the impact legalization would have on the youth.

Anita Seefried-Brown, project director of the Alliance for Better Communities, said the glamorization of recreational marijuana is similar to the tobacco and alcohol industries.

“We were sold on alcohol when it was marketed directly to young people, we saw the same playbook with the marketing for tobacco, and we are in the midst of seeing the same with marijuana,” Seefried-Brown said.

Stephen Jennings, a public health planner at Jefferson County Public Health, said legalization would increase addiction and associated probleHe said it is “very concerning” from his standpoint.

James Scordo of CREDO Community Center and William Bowman of PIVOT 2 Health also spoke, agreeing with Jennings and Seefried-Brown.

“I am concerned about the message it sends to youth, no matter what age it is set at,” Scordo said.

All of these officials said if legalization does occur, there needs to be a section of funding dedication to rehabilitation and treatment programs for the community.

To end the night’s comments, Doug J. Anderson, seemingly pro-legalization, said the debate goes beyond the health risks and personal use.

“It seems that people are going to use marijuana, whether it is a health risk or not, so I think it is a matter of liberty, not their health,” Anderson said.

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