New Paltz Officials Weigh Costs of Legal Weed

New York State’s potential recreational marijuana legalization poses few financial benefits and a bundle of burdens for the Town and Village of New Paltz, if passed. 

In his annual State of the State Address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered the legalization as a means to fill the $6 billion deficit in the state budget, according to a New York Times article. As state officials bicker over where the legal weed tax revenue will fit into the 2020 budget, municipalities wonder where the money to enact the plan on the local level will come from. 

“While I’m in support [of legalization], we shouldn’t be asked to bear the burden of it without reaping some benefits,” said Town Supervisor Neil Bettez. 

In fact, Bettez claims that there are nearly no benefits for the Town and Village. While Gov. Cuomo claims that the state could reap nearly $300 million in extra tax dollars, New Paltz would virtually see none of it. The lion’s share of sale tax revenue goes back to the state, another large chunk is given to Ulster County and the City of Kingston and the remaining 3% is split among the remaining towns and villages. Bettez explained that for $150 of sales, New Paltz receives a penny in return. 

Another impending cost New Paltz would face after legalization is the new training necessary for the New Paltz Police Department (NPPD). While every officer is trained to assess drivers under the influence of alcohol, most NPPD officers aren’t certified to recognize impairment from other drugs like marijuana. Lieutenant Robert Lucchesi of the NPPD explained how some officers may have to be trained as drug recognition experts (DRE). Officers with DRE certifications undergo thorough training in order to test and arrest drivers who are stoned at the wheel. Although it’s unclear how much this training would cost, Lucchesi said that he would want at least three DRE officers in the department. 

Ultimately the decision is out of the hands of New Paltz officials and in the palm of the county government. Ulster County Legislator Laura Petit, of Esopus, said that the County ultimately chooses whether to opt-in to the legalization. She explained that while the county may support smoking and vaping mairjuana, it may steer away from edible marijuana candies. 

“[The legislature] is in favor [of legalization] for the most part because of the known medical purposes,” Petit said. “There has been some pushback from the community that [marijuana] may be a gateway drug.” 

Petit and her fellow legislators have not been handed the legislation yet, leaving many minor details up in the air. According to Petit, legislators have not discussed whether the county would help pay for local changes in infrastructure should legalization make its way upstate. 

Eric Wood, Hudson Valley regional coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group, echoes Bettez’s call for community compensation. His concerns lie more with communities who have been unfairly criminalized and disrupted by harsher marijuana laws in the past.

“There needs to be a fund set up so some of the tax revenue from sales goes back to the communities who have been impacted,” Wood said. 

Max Freebern
About Max Freebern 91 Articles
Max Freebern is a fourth-year journalism major who’s going into his fifth semester working for Oracle. He worked his way from a contributor, to copy editor and has served as the News editor for the past few semester. While he normally focuses on local government his true passion is writing immersive work and human profiles.