Sheriff calls decision ‘too big for our politicians’

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

As members of the Putnam County Legislature on Monday (March 18) urged the state to slow the push for legal marijuana, Sheriff Robert Langley termed the issue “too big for Albany.”

Speaking before the Legislature’s Health Committee in a room in which the audience spilled into the hallway, Langley called for a statewide referendum on the legalization of recreational marijuana.

“Let the people be heard,” Langley said. “This is up to our society. This is too big for our politicians.” (Robert Firriolo, the Legislature’s lawyer, noted that New York does not permit statewide referendums.)

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed that the state legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults, with taxes providing revenue to fund oversight.

“We need to tell the governor to slow down on this,” said Legislator Amy Sayegh (R-Mahopac), a member of the committee.

Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. spoke to legislators on March 18 about his opposition to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. (Photo by Ross Corsair)

“The real issue here is the children,” added Legislator Carl Albano (R-Carmel). Were it just a question of adult use of marijuana, with no chance that children could obtain it, “I don’t think anyone would lose too much sleep.”

The sheriff cautioned that state income from marijuana operations is likely to be offset by the costs of increased law enforcement and social ills. “Can we afford this?” he asked. “Is it really worth it?” He recalled investigating a traffic accident which, he said, involved marijuana: “I walked around on a roadway which was covered with brain matter. Is that what we want in our society?”

Although he said he supports the medical use of prescribed marijuana, which is legal in New York, the sheriff warned that legalizing marijuana for recreational use could lead to increased mental health problems. He said 58 percent of inmates in the Putnam County Jail suffer from mental problems, yet New York State does not fund county jail treatment efforts. If the situation gets worse, “who’s going to pay?” he asked. “We all are.”

Moreover, he asserted, criminals would target licensed marijuana stores. “You’re taking a major risk. We’re going to take steps backward by legalization of marijuana. I want to take steps forward. We need to put our heads together and come up with a plan.”

Kristin McConnell, executive director of the Prevention Council of Putnam, shared statistics that dovetailed with Langley’s remarks. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 6 percent of high school seniors report daily use of marijuana.

Michael Piazza, the commissioner of the county Department of Social Services, expresses his opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana while Legislator Nancy Montgomery looks on. (Photo by Ross Corsair)

She also noted a 2018 survey that found 35 percent of high school seniors in Putnam reported using marijuana in the preceding 30 days, compared to the national average of 23 percent. In addition, she said, 54 percent of Putnam students regarded marijuana as harmful, compared to 79 percent in 2008. She said pot use among local teens outstrips their tobacco use and that marijuana is addictive and can lead to psychosis.

New York must “slow down right now and look at all the costs,” she told the committee. “It’s a health and safety issue and should be driven by science, not profits.”

Audience members jumped into the debate.

A Cold Spring resident commended Langley. “We want our kids and our families to be safe,” she said.

A Putnam Valley resident, who said that he abandoned marijuana after smoking it for 20 years without becoming addicted, objected to suggestions that pot automatically triggers addiction. He supported overall legalization of drugs under tight restrictions that include bans on teen access.

A Mahopac woman likewise called the idea that pot users are destined to become addicts “a scare tactic” and termed some of McConnell’s statements “alarmist and inaccurate.” She backed marijuana legalization, claiming that “only through legalization can we regulate what’s out there.”

Another attendee proposed a follow-up session with invited speakers who support legalization.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government

3 replies on “County Legislators Discuss Pot Legalization”

  1. Carl Albano and Sheriff Langley should do this experiment: Ask any 20- or 30-something person, “How hard or easy was it to buy tobacco, alcohol or marijuana when you were in high school?” Every single one of them will reply, “If marijuana were legal, it would be as hard to obtain as tobacco or alcohol. Marijuana is easy to get because nobody asks any questions or for an ID.”

    Then they should visit one of the legal dispensaries of recreational marijuana just an hour away in Massachusetts, or travel to Colorado, Oregon or Washington to see how they operate there. You will notice that in Massachusetts, the parking lot is full of cars with New York license plates. You’ll also notice a full 30-minute wait line from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. A good 50 percent of the people in line are 50 years old or older. It’s a cordial, controlled and civilized experience.

    Legalizing recreational marijuana will not create a huge population of new pot smokers, They’re already using it and have been for years. There will always be a small percentage of the population that has problems with abuse and addiction whether it’s a legal substance or not. However, the vast majority of people who drink alcohol, use tobacco and marijuana do so responsibly and without harming anyone.

    Imagine all the thousands upon thousands of dollars in tax revenue pouring into Massachusetts from New York wallets. Then imagine all the marijuana that’s traveling back into New York to be sold on the black market.

    Legalization will eliminate the black market that creates so many problems for law enforcement, keep it out of the reach of minors, and generate revenue to assist the state in providing real help to those with addiction.

  2. What we have here is nothing less than a biased status quo attempting to squash the justified legalization of a substance which has repeatedly been scientifically proven to be less harmful than alcohol, tobacco, sugar and driving a car.

    It is well-documented that William Randolph Hearst originally lobbied Congress to make hemp illegal because it represented a threat to his financial interests in promoting the lumber industry as the sole resource for the manufacture of paper used in newspaper production.

    It is also well-documented that Richard Nixon ordered cannabis to be designated as a Schedule 1 drug because he needed an excuse for arresting liberal-leaning anti-Vietnam War protesters, because he believed they were more apt to smoke cannabis.

    Cannabis use and possession has been used as a tool for disproportionately profiling, arresting and jailing minorities, discrediting socially progressive politicians and shaming members of our community whose lifestyle choices don’t fall in line with those of the so-called “moral majority.”

    The latest scare tactic being promoted by the intolerant is a recently released research study, which found a link between cannabis use and psychosis. That study is being promoted dishonestly. Like many before, it merely found an ASSOCIATIVE relationship – not a CAUSAL relationship – between cannabis use and psychosis. This means those who suffer from psychoses and other similar disorders tend to use all intoxicants at a higher rate than those who do not suffer from these disorders. This study found no proof that cannabis use causes those disorders. The sad truth is that those who suffer from mental health disorders tend to self-medicate with intoxicants in an attempt to escape their very unfortunate symptoms.

    Finally, the argument that legalizing cannabis represents some kind of new threat to our youth is false, because legalization efforts include calls for regulation which mirror those for the sale and use of alcohol and tobacco. In short, cannabis prohibition is morally, scientifically and socially unjust.

  3. I am not sure if “addiction”, in and of itself, is a key issue.

    My primary concern is, and has been, how to prevent operators of motor vehicles, or similar such as snowmobiles, boats, and airplanes, or equipment or machinery, from using or even indirectly having their abilities to effectively and safely do so negatively impacted – impaired to some defined, consistent standard – by the use, or presence, of any “drug”, chemical, or substance. Marijuana is only one such substance; alcohol is another. Both, I believe, are depressants. Tobacco, being a stimulant, is yet another. Opiods and certain other pharmaceuticals also degrade the ability to safety operate a motor vehicle. Caffeine, in coffees, teas, and from other sources, is also a stimulant, and at some point affects judgment, the ability to react, and therefore to operate a motor vehicle.

    Just because it is allowed, or it is legal, by state law, to use, or to have in one’s blood, a certain group of drugs, substances, or chemicals when operating a motor vehicle is not an argument that other, currently and specifically, illegal, by state law, defined substances, be allowed, or be made legal to use, or to have at some level in one’s blood. They should all be illegal, and not randomly, or socially, or impressionistically, but to some consistent physiological (or perhaps even psychological?) standard, for the purpose of public and individual health and safety.

    More study needs to be done, by competent medical professionals, and by traffic safety, and public health professionals, not politically motivated, to determine the safe and acceptable levels of exposure to these various substances, under those circumstances where the individual or the public may be negatively affected. To what extent, for example, is one’s ability to operate a motor vehicle affected by “second-hand” smoke – whether that be from tobacco, or from marijuana? To what extend, in one more example, is one’s ability to operate a motor vehicle affected by the presence of passengers, who are drinking, or who have been drinking, alcohol, or smoking tobacco, or marijuana, or have been exposed to other substances, in the same vehicle, even if there is a solid or physical barrier between the two groups?

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