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New York State To Hold Listening Sessions On Legalizing Marijuana

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Want to weigh in on marijuana laws in New York?

Now's your chance. Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to hold a series of listening sessions on the issue.

"Community input is critical as we work to draft balanced and comprehensive legislation on a regulated marijuana program in New York," the governor said in a statement Thursday. "The multi-agency report identified the benefits of a regulated marijuana market, and with these listening sessions we are taking another important step to develop a model program for New York. We look forward to hearing what New Yorkers in every corner of the state have to say."

The free listening sessions will be held over the next two months in Albany, Glens Falls, The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, Newburgh, Binghamton, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Watertown.

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(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Cuomo recently created the "Regulated Marijuana Workgroup" to draft legislation around regulating adult-use marijuana. The group is made up of state lawmakers, law enforcement and academics.

Last month, the state issued a report supporting legalization of the drug for adults. The health department concluded "taxing and regulating marijuana far outweighs any potential negative consequences."

The study also estimated the state could raise nearly $700 million in tax revenue.

"I have reviewed the multi-agency report commissioned last January and have discussed its findings with Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker," the governor said in a statement at the time. "The next steps must be taken thoughtfully and deliberately. As we work to implement the report's recommendations through legislation, we must thoroughly consider all aspects of a regulated marijuana program, including its impact on public health, criminal justice and state revenue, and mitigate any potential risks associated with it. I thank the members of the workgroup for their time and expertise as we work to craft a model program."

Cuomo, who once called marijuana a "gateway drug," ordered the report in January. The shift came as New Jersey and Massachusetts started exploring legalization.

The subject came up during Wednesday's debate with Democratic challenger Cynthia Nixon, who called it a "racial justice issue."

"People across all racial lines use marijuana at roughly the same rates, but the arrests from marijuana are 80 percent black and Latino," Nixon said. "We need to not only legalize marijuana here, but when this multi-billion dollar industry comes to New York we need to prioritize the individuals and the communities that have been the most harmed by the war on drugs."

The governor replied, saying racial injustice doesn't start with marijuana, rather with "lack of housings, lack of schools, of job opportunities."

"In the criminal justice system, itself, it's also prevalent," he continued. "It's not a coincidence that a lot of people in jail are people of color."

In New York City, officials recently implemented a new marijuana policy -- issuing summons instead of arrests for people caught smoking in public.

For more on the listening sessions, click here.

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