On July 13, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York released a report from the state’s Department of Health that recommends that the state legalize adult-use marijuana. Cuomo, who is running for re-election, is facing a challenge from Cynthia Nixon, whose advocacy for legalization and against racial disparity in enforcement have been integral to her campaign.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, “The report concludes that the benefits of taxing and regulating marijuana far outweighs any potential negative consequences.” The release also includes a statement from Chris Alexander, Policy Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance: “We are pleased that the Governor and the State Department of Health have fully studied the existing evidence and accurately concluded that legalizing marijuana for adult use is the right choice for New York. Marijuana prohibition has devastated our communities, saddled hundreds of thousands with criminal records, acted as an easily accessible tool for racially biased policing, and stunted the opportunities for entire generations of mostly New Yorker’s of color.”

Both Democrats Support Legalization

With this announcement, the two leading contenders for the governor’s office have made it clear that they support legalization.

The seventy-four-page, heavily annotated research report analyzes the consequences of legalization on public health, the criminal justice system, and the economy of the state, and examines the results of legalization in Colorado. This analysis presents many arguments in favor of legalization. For example: “A regulated marijuana program would have health, social justice and economic benefits.” Another incentive for legalization: “there is potential for substantial tax revenue in NYS.” Perhaps with tax revenue in mind, the report also acknowledges this reality: “Several neighboring jurisdictions have legalized marijuana or are likely to legalize soon. Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and Canada have legalized marijuana. Legalization is under discussion in New Jersey as well.”

The report also discusses racial disparity in enforcement and says that “the best way to address” this issue “is to legalize marijuana.” The report’s recommendation on racial disparity in enforcement is clear: “We recommend NYS address prior criminal convictions for marijuana possession. Some jurisdictions are working toward expunging previous drug-related offenses, such as San Francisco and San Diego, where district attorneys announced that they will review, recall, resentence, potentially dismiss, and seal misdemeanor and felony marijuana convictions. Seattle’s district attorney made a similar announcement.”

The report also argues that the best way to educate citizens on the potential health effects of marijuana is not through prohibition but through education programs, which may be financed by taxation. And how much tax money could legal marijuana add to the state’s coffers? The report says: ‘[T]he estimated potential total tax revenue in the first year with a price of $297 [per ounce] and illegal market consumption of 6.5 million ounces ranges from $248.1 million (with a 7% tax rate) to $340.6 million (with a 15% tax rate). The estimated potential total tax revenue with a price of $374 and illegal market consumption of 10.2 million ounces ranges from $493.7 million (with a 7% tax rate) to $677.7 million (with a 15% tax rate).” While the state has a reported 2018-19 budget of $168.3 billion, a few hundred million dollars in additional income would presumably be welcome.

The report offers a possible public health benefit as well: “[S]tudies have found notable associations of reductions in opioid prescribing and opioid deaths with the availability of marijuana products. States with medical marijuana programs have been found to have lower rates of opioid overdose deaths than other states.”

Polls indicate that Cuomo is likely to be re-elected in November, but even if Nixon manages an upset victory, the likely outcome is the same: adult-use legalization in New York. The release of this positive report on legalization a short time before the election makes this clear.

What do you think? Will adult-use marijuana be legal in New York state by 2020? Leave a comment below.

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