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Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck

Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck speaks after being sworn into office Jan. 2.

Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck and other sheriffs across New York are speaking out against legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. 

Schenck, who was in Albany Thursday for a press conference with other sheriffs, released a statement announcing his opposition to proposals that would legalize marijuana for adults ages 21 and older. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many Democrats in the state Legislature support legalizing recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is already permitted in New York. 

Cuomo's proposal would create a licensing program for marijuana growers, impose a 20 percent state and 2 percent local tax on the sale of the drug and ban anyone under the age of 21 from buying marijuana. 

The governor's plan also includes an opt-out provision for counties and cities with more than 100,000 people. These municipalities could prohibit marijuana sales. 

Schenck said if marijuana is legalized in New York, the public health and safety of Cayuga County "would suffer as a result." 

In his statement, Schenck cited a report released by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area analyzing marijuana legalization in Colorado. Colorado is one of 10 states that allows recreational marijuana use. 

The report contained a handful of key findings. The crime rate in Colorado has increased since marijuana was legalized and more than two-thirds of marijuana users admitted to driving after consuming the drug. 

Traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, according to the report. And use of the drug among youths "increased sharply." 

"Based on my experience, and the available data from Colorado, I know that legal recreational marijuana use in our community will result in an increase in drugged driving, traffic deaths, crime rates, and use by our children," Schenck said. 

Proponents of marijuana legalization argue that it will address racial disparities in the criminal justice system — an issue that wasn't address by Schenck in his statement. 

The American Civil Liberties Union analyzed 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010. A vast majority of the arrests were only for marijuana possession. Even though usage rates were nearly identical, black people were 3.73 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession. 

Schenck's concerns focus more on the health impact. He worries fatal crashes caused by impaired drivers will rise and that resources will be strained as law enforcement and other agencies deal with the ongoing effects of the opioid epidemic. 

"We cannot make it easier for our children and youth to obtain and smoke marijuana and we cannot support policies that will undoubtedly result in an increase in crime rates," Schenck said. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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