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Giambra sees legalized pot as transit funding source

Just a few weeks ago, Joel A. Giambra the lobbyist was working the State Capitol’s hallways advocating the legalization of marijuana.

Now he works a different Capitol angle as a Republican hopeful for governor, proposing that legalized and tightly regulated marijuana sales represent the best way to address the state’s massive infrastructure and mass transit needs.

“I’m saying raising taxes is not the solution,” he said during a Monday press conference on Niagara Street. “My job would be to convince the Legislature that this is the most appropriate way to deal with this particular problem of infrastructure.”

The former Erie County executive — who last week declared his intention to seek the GOP nomination for governor — has been promising throughout his young campaign that he will propose new ways of addressing Albany issues. He began touting the legal marijuana approach last week while making the rounds in New York City and calling for major reforms within its Metropolitan Transportation Authority as a way to deal with deteriorating bus and rail service.

He says the same revenues dedicated to downstate transit could be used for upstate roads, bridges and mass transit.

And while he would not provide details he says are forthcoming, Giambra basically proposes that a regulated marijuana industry would generate significant revenues by elevating its sale from an “underground economy” into a legal marketplace. He would not elaborate on whether government would directly oversee the sales or get revenue in some other manner. But he said neighboring states and Ontario are already moving toward legalization and that New York should prepare for the eventuality, even if the Trump administration looks to tighten enforcement of marijuana laws.

“I’m hoping Washington is going to get real on this,” he said. “Marijuana should not be a Class 1 drug alongside heroin and cocaine.”

Giambra's road to GOP nod for governor runs through Conservative leader

Giambra, who so far is joined by Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb of Canandaigua as a declared candidate, said he expects Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative Democrats to propose new taxes as a way of battling a multibillion dollar deficit. He said Cuomo may seek taxes on New York City commuters while Mayor Bill de Blasio has talked about taxes on the city’s wealthy as a way of raising some of the billions of dollars needed for the downstate transit system’s capital needs.

His proposal taps a revenue stream that right now is operating in the shadows, he said.

“This is going to create jobs and opportunity,” he told reporters. “Right now the jobs and opportunity are in the underground economy, and that’s wrong.”

Giambra acknowledged that until recently he had worked as a professional lobbyist with former Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato’s Park Strategies firm on behalf of marijuana legalization. He said Monday he sees no conflict in his new role.

“As a lobbyist I took on the cause because I believed in it,” he said. “I still believe in it today. I’m not getting paid for it now.”

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