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Bill would ban public use of marijuana, including edibles

In New York State, most municipalities ban the use of alcohol on public streets or outside of venues that specifically allow it. Yet the state’s relatively new marijuana law doesn’t let local governments impose the same restrictions on public consumption of THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana.

New York State Sen. George Borrello wants to change that with legislation that would prohibit public use of marijuana in all forms “unless specifically authorized by the locality.”

He calls it a public safety issue, but it’s not about the dangers of second-hand smoke.

“I’m trying to enact an open container law for marijuana,” Borrello said. “Not just to ban smoking it, but vaping, edibles, anything in public places.”

Borrello, R-Jamestown, introduced Senate Bill 7604 last week and it is co-sponsored in the state Assembly by Michael Novakhov, R-Brooklyn. The bill would impose a $125 fine for consuming marijuana in public and allow municipalities to both enforce a state law and impose their own laws regarding public use of marijuana.

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Currently, New York law makes it illegal to smoke cannabis anyplace tobacco smoking is prohibited – but the fine is only $25, which neither deters violators nor encourages enforcement, Borrello said.

State law allows people to publicly use the drug in other forms, like vaping or edibles, which presents “a public safety threat,” Borrello said.

“You can’t walk down the street chugging a bottle of vodka, but you can get stoned in public, and that is just reckless,” he said.

As an owner of restaurants that serve alcohol – including the Sunset Bay Beach Club in Irving and Cabana Sam’s Sunset Bay Grill – Borrello said he fears business owners may be held liable for the actions of customers who get high on cannabis at their establishments.

Long line of customers greets Western New York's first licensed marijuana dispensary Dank on Tuesday became the first state-licensed dispensary to open in Western New York.

“Thirty or 40 years ago, the levels of THC (the intoxicating component in cannabis) were far lower, maybe 3 or 4%,” he said. “Today’s product is more like 70%, which is like the difference between drinking a glass of wine and drinking a glass of grain alcohol.”

“So right now, someone can come into our restaurant with a pocket full of gummies and we are responsible for that person’s public intoxication,” he said.

Borrello said many states that have legalized cannabis restrict consumption to private residences, including California. New York City recently launched a “Let’s Be Blunt” campaign reminding people about non-smoking laws after a wave of complaints about odor violations.

Prohibiting all use of cannabis in public places unless otherwise allowed by the locality would serve as a deterrent to irresponsible use of marijuana and the $125 fine would show law enforcement that “New York is serious about public consumption of marijuana.”

“Hopefully it would serve as a deterrent,” he said. “This is a public health issue.”

Though it was submitted by Republicans in a Legislature controlled by Democrats, Borrello said he hopes the bill will spark spark discussion and that even liberal Democrats might support giving localities the power to regulate the public use of marijuana. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, could not be reached for comment Sunday.



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