Candidates differ on marijuana legalization

The two candidates running for the 150th assembly district disagree when it comes to the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana. The incumbent Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, is against it. In fact, he said recreational marijuana use in the state is already basically legal because a person possessing a small amount, less than 25 grams, doesn’t go to jail. He added it is the dealers, who possess larger amounts, who go to jail.

“No one is going to jail for the recreational use of marijuana in New York state,” Goodell said. “The ones going to jail are the sellers and dealers.”

Judith Einach, the challenger for the 150th state assembly district, is in favor of legalizing the use of recreational marijuana. She said from a health standpoint, it is considered by many experts to be safer than two already legal drugs — alcohol and tobacco. She added it is also safer, obviously, than cocaine and heroin.

“State health departments say use among youths goes down where it is legally sold. The mystique of getting your hands on something illicit goes away,” she said. “They say (where it is legal) the number of users doesn’t increase, but probably decreases because kids aren’t using it. Parents are already using it so it’s not creating anymore users. I don’t see this as a big problem with kids. If anything, it will help with kids.”

Goodell said people who advocate recreational marijuana use by saying it is safer than tobacco and alcohol, and other illegal drugs, are wrong. He said tobacco is No. 1 cause of premature deaths while alcohol is the second highest. He added, obviously, heroin and cocaine are hurting people as well.

“I’m not sure you want to add another (drug) to that list,” he said. “It’s not a good argument.”

Einach said by legalizing recreational marijuana use it is estimated to generate $700 million in additional tax revenue for the state. She also said that two surrounding Canadian providences and neighboring states, besides Pennsylvania, are all on the verge of legalizing marijuana. She added that by legalizing marijuana in New York other states won’t gain tax revenue from the state and it might attract Pennsylvania residents to travel north, which will increase tourism. As for opioids, Goodell said tremendous progress has been made in addressing the epidemic. He said the county has seen a substantial drop in drug-related deaths.

Overall in 2017, there were 42 drug-related deaths and 38 drug overdose deaths in Chautauqua County with one remaining pending investigation. There have been 10 drug-related deaths along with the eight drug overdose deaths and 14 pending investigations so far in 2018.

Goodell said Naloxone, sold under the brandname Narcan, has played a huge role in reducing deaths, but also contributes the I-Stop prescription monitoring system for tracking over-prescribing of opioids, which stopped practices like “doctor shopping.”

Einach said people have to separate the myth of marijuana as a gateway drug and understand the opioid crisis was a direct result of pharmaceutical companies lying to the public about the addictive qualities. She said the criminal justice system needs to work on real treatment for addicts. She added where marijuana is legal, reports have shown opioid use decreases and the prescribing of opioid medication also lowers.

“Addiction is not a crime. They shouldn’t be punished,” she said. “You wouldn’t punish someone with an illness.”

Goodell suggested that New York officials should watch what happens in other states where marijuana has been legalized for a few more years before “heading down that path.”

“If we move toward legislation, we have to do it in a very thoughtful manner,” he said. “We have to go slow to avoid the pitfalls of other states.”

Einach replied by saying, “We’ve gone slow. That is what we’ve been doing and why we have the problems (with opioids) that have been built up. Sixty percent of the people want it legalized. People want this done.” Editor’s Note: This is the first of four stories detailing The OBSERVER’s debate between 150th state assembly candidates – incumbent Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, and challenger Judith Einach, D-Westfield.