According to reports, New York has an excellent chance of becoming the 10th U.S. state to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Thursday the forming of a working group consisting of 20 experts in the fields of public health, safety, and economics to draft a bill before the 2019 state legislature convenes in January.
In a statement released last Thursday the Governor’s Office noted: “The regulated adult-use marijuana program will build on Governor Cuomo’s commitment to reducing the number of nonviolent individuals who become needlessly entangled in the criminal justice system and record of expanding access to medical marijuana.”
A 75-Page Health Department Report
The move comes on the heels of a 75-page report by the state’s Health Department which recommended the creation of a regulated cannabis market in the Empire State. The report claimed that the "positive effects" of cannabis legalization "outweigh the potential negative impacts,” and “areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations.”
The report claimed that legalization would result in a reduction of opioid prescriptions and deaths, and that making marijuana illegal does not curb its use, and that there has been no increase in violent crime or property crime rates in the vicinity of medical marijuana dispensaries.
According to the report, "numerous NYS agencies and subject matter experts in the fields of public health, mental health, substance use, public safety, transportation, and economics worked in developing this assessment. No insurmountable obstacles to regulation of marijuana were raised," and "Regulation of marijuana benefits public health by enabling government oversight of the production, testing, labeling, distribution, and sale of marijuana. The creation of a regulated marijuana program would enable NYS to better control licensing, ensure quality control and consumer protection, and set age and quantity restrictions."
“I have reviewed the multi-agency report commissioned last January and have discussed its findings with Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. The next steps must be taken thoughtfully and deliberately,” said Cuomo upon the report’s release. “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.”
Politically Motivated Cannabis Legalization
Some have speculated that with November elections coming up, and some stiff competition aiming to take his seat, the Governor’s interest in promoting the legalization of cannabis may be politically motivated.
In the past, Cuomo was opposed to medical marijuana, calling marijuana a “gateway drug” and refusing to approve a bill which broadened access for patients who need it until stricter restrictions were added.
Actress and Sex and the City alum Cynthia Nixon, in her bid for the Governor’s Office, expressed her support for legalization. She correctly pointed out that prohibition has disproportionately impacted people of color. Initially considered a longshot, Nixon has seen a surge of support over the last few months.
A Surge Of Anti-Prohibition Activity
New York currently operates a very limited medical cannabis program. But in recent months, there’s been a notable surge in interest to expand the state’s marijuana reform efforts. Last month, the Health Department moved to allow medical marijuana use for conditions that are normally treated with opioids.
Last week, the state Department of Financial Services published a statement encouraging banks to do business with licensed cannabis businesses. And, just recently, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the NYPD to stop arresting people for smoking marijuana in public, and several borough district attorneys said they would stop prosecuting such cases.
Also, during its May convention, the state’s Democratic Party adopted a resolution calling for full legalization and a reduction in arrests of minority residents, who are disproportionately affected by the enforcement of current marijuana laws.
And in Washington, New York Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are sponsoring congressional legislation to reform federal cannabis rules.