New York Assembly members held a hearing to debate the merits of legalizing cannabis in the state – the first step toward potential reforms – but advocates will have a huge roadblock to overcome in Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who still believes in the gateway theory.

The measure would legalize cannabis for individuals 21-and-older and create a taxed-and-regulated system. According to an amNewYork report, the last time the state made significant changes to its criminal cannabis laws was when non-public cannabis possession was decriminalized in the state about 40 years ago.

New York does have a medical cannabis system; however, it is limited in scope and does not allow patients access to flower.

The hearing featured members of both pro and anti-legalization public interest and advocacy groups, including incoming New York State Sheriffs’ Association President Sheriff Barry Virts who said he was concerned about drugged driving and cannabis fueling the opioid epidemic. Dr. Julia Arnsten, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, addressed Virts’ concerns, citing a 2014 study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal which purported a 25 percent decrease in opioid overdoses in cannabis-legal states.

The measure is sponsored by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who, during the hearing, said that current drug laws disproportionately target minorities.

“It’s almost criminal what we’ve done as a country.” – Peoples-Stokes, via PIX11

In the Assembly, the legislation carries 14 co-and-multi sponsors.

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