Among the big, blue states, New York has been wildly backward on marijuana law. That may finally be changing. Governor Andrew Cuomo – who as recently as last year touted the prohibitionist myth that marijuana is a “gateway drug” – is about to receive a report from the state’s health commissioner recommending a framework for legal, regulated marijuana in New York.
The report is not finalized, but Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker previewed its findings on Monday. “We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons, and when were done, we realized that the pros outweighed the cons,” Mr. Zucker told reporters, “We have new facts.”
The facts around marijuana have not changed, of course. The politics are what’s different. Actor Cynthia Nixon is challenging Cuomo for governor from the left, and has made the unequal treatment of minority drug use and the legalization of pot a centerpiece of her campaign. “It shouldn’t have taken Cuomo eight years” to evolve on pot, a spokesperson told the New York Times.
New York is also facing a reality check from neighboring New Jersey, where Republican Chris Christie is no longer around to give Cuomo cover for innaction. A Democratic regime is moving rapidly to liberalize marijuana laws. Governor Phil Murphy campaigned on legalizing recreational pot as a means of raising tax revenue and reducing incarceration in the state. He’s called for the legislature to deliver a legalization bill by the end of the year and is budgeting $60 million in anticipated revenue from pot sales.
Zucker also revealed Monday that opioid use will now serve as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in New York state, citing research that shows marijuana can curb addiction to heroin and some prescription drugs. “Adding opioid use as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana has the potential to help save countless lives across the state,” he said.
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According to New York City’s comptroller there are nearly 1.5 million marijuana users in the state. The legalization, he estimates, could create a $3.1 billion market, and increase state tax revenue by roughly $440 million. Last year alone, some 18,000 New York City residents were arrested for marijuana possession; nearly half were black; 38 percent were hispanic; just 10 percent were white.
Though officials have not revealed when the full report will be released, according to Zucker, it will be available to the public “soon.”