In New York state, most municipalities ban the use of alcohol on public roads and outside of specially permitted venues. However, the state’s relatively new marijuana plant does not allow local governments to impose similar restrictions on public consumption of THC, the psychotropic component of marijuana.
New York State Senator George Bolero wants to change that by enacting a law banning all forms of public use of marijuana “unless specifically permitted by the locality.”
He says it’s 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,” Bolero said. “Not only will we ban smoking, but we will also ban e-cigarettes, edibles, and anything in public.”
Bolero (Republican, Jamestown) introduced Senate Bill 7604 last week, with Michael Novahoff (Republican, Brooklyn) as a cosponsor in the state legislature. The bill imposes a $125 fine for public consumption of marijuana and allows local governments to enforce both state and own laws regarding public use of marijuana.
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New York law now makes it illegal to smoke cannabis in places where tobacco smoking is prohibited, but the fine is only $25 and doesn’t deter offenders or encourage a crackdown, Bolero said.
Bolero said state law allows public use of the drug in other forms, such as e-cigarettes and edibles, which “endangers public safety.”
“You can’t walk down the street with a bottle of vodka, but you can be stoned in public. That’s just reckless,” he said.
As the owner of restaurants that serve alcohol, including Irving’s Sunset Bay Beach Club and Cabana Sam’s Sunset Bay Grill, Mr. Bolero said he fears management will be held accountable for the behavior of customers who get high after consuming cannabis there.
Dunk became the first state-licensed pharmacy to open in western New York on Tuesday.
“Thirty to 40 years ago, THC levels were much lower, maybe 3 to 4 percent,” he says. “Today’s product is about 70 percent. That’s about the difference between a glass of wine and a glass of grain alcohol for him.”
“So now someone could walk into our restaurant with a pocket full of gummies and we are responsible for their public intoxication,” he said.
Bolero said many states that have legalized cannabis, including California, have restricted consumption in private homes. New York City recently launched a “Let’s Be Blunt” campaign to remind people of its smoke-free laws after a spate of complaints about odor violations.
Banning all public use of cannabis, unless permitted by locality, would act as a deterrent to irresponsible use of marijuana, and the $125 fine would show law enforcement that “New York State is serious about public marijuana consumption.”
“I hope it’s a deterrent,” he said. “This is a public health issue.”
Although the bill was introduced by Republicans in a Democratic-led Congress, Bolero said he hoped the bill would spark debate, and even liberal Democrats might support giving local governments the power to regulate public use of marijuana. Majority Leader Crystal Peoples Stokes (D-Buffalo) was not available for comment on Sunday.
The bill has been submitted to committees from both houses of Congress, whose term ends in 2023. But Bolero said further discussion may not have to wait until January.
“There may be a special session by then,” he said.