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A marijuana cultivation facility in Bedford Park, Ill.

Now that New York lawmakers are taking a slow and steady approach to the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana, a thorough debate complete with feedback from the public will offer the best opportunity for making the right decision.

It was a good move to take the marijuana measure out of the mix before the state budget was passed, because it's just too big an issue to be rubber-stamped along with the annual spending plan. But now that the budget dust has more or less settled, lawmakers are again looking into legalization. And several issues stand in the way.

After first leaning toward a system wherein counties would be able to opt out of hosting retail dispensaries, a new line of thinking is to make it an opt-in proposition, leaving counties plenty of time to decide for themselves whether or not to participate.

There is widespread disagreement over how best to license dispensary operators, with some lawmakers insisting that preference be given to minority-operated enterprises.

It has been suggested that if marijuana becomes legal, the convictions of people previously convicted of minor pot crimes should be expunged from state records.

And lawmakers need to try to avoid sending mixed signals on drugs. Gov. Andrew Cuomo just last week announced that the state would be cracking down on synthetic marijuana, offering guidance to mental health professionals and emergency departments about how to best treat users and stepping up law enforcement measures. But the fact that fake lab-produced marijuana comes with more dangerous side effects than cultivated pot plants is surely going to be lost on some members of the public who are going to wonder why the state believes one is OK but not the other.

Legalizing marijuana is a divisive and complex topic, so lawmakers owe it to the public to put all of the available options on the table and truly weigh public comment before deciding one way or the other.

The Citizen editorial board includes interim publisher Thomas Salvo, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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