Governor Andrew Cuomo has previously referred to marijuana as a “gateway drug” (he’s more of a beer guy), but it looks like he’s finally mellowing out. After commissioning a report that recommended the drug’s legalization, the governor is convening a team to draft legislation for what’s being called a “regulated adult-use marijuana program.” Translation: legal weed. Snoochie boochies, New Yorkers.
The workgroup– which we’ll go ahead and call a joint committee– will draft legislation for Albany lawmakers to consider in their upcoming session. It’ll be led by the governor’s lawyer, Alphonso David, and will include academics, law enforcement officials, and commissioners at various state agencies. David has been closely involved in the expansion of New York’s medical marijuana program, which now boasts nearly 1,700 providers and 59,653 patients.
The workgroup was announced this morning, just a day after the Manhattan district attorney officially joined Brooklyn in declining to prosecute those caught smoking or carrying small amounts of weed. In June, Mayor de Blasio announced that, starting Sept. 1, the NYPD would issue summonses instead of arresting marijuana smokers with no prior record. Meanwhile, Cuomo’s gubernatorial opponent Cynthia Nixon has been pushing for full legalization, even offering the chance to win a bong signed by the stars of Broad City.
Cuomo is forming the workgroup as the result of a study, ordered in January and released last month, of the potential pros and cons of legalization in light of groovy moves by nearby Massachusetts and New Jersey. The study, led by the state health department, estimated that legalizing weed in New York State would generate an estimated $248.1 million to $677.7 million in tax revenue, depending on the pricing and taxation rate, and assuming 1.29 million people took advantage of it during its first year. Those numbers could be further affected by factors such as whether New Yorkers are allowed to grow their own, and whether the weed is taxed by weight, price or potency.
The report recommended that New York limit the number of weed licenses, tax marijuana at 7 to 10 percent, and prioritize marijuantrepreneurs of color as well as those who live in the areas most affected by criminalization (a recently released study indicated that in the first six months of this year, 93 percent of the NYPD’s weed arrests were of people of color). It also recommended a one-ounce limit on weed purchases and called for limits on the types of products that are for sale and the amount of THC in them. Oh, and the packaging shouldn’t feature cartoon characters.
In a statement, Cuomo said, “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.”
As for the impact on public health, the report analyzed data from states that had already legalized recreational weed and found that regulation can reduce harm to consumers (though in Colorado, legalization did up the number of pre-teens who went to the ER after accidental ingestion); can reduce opioid use; can have health benefits (especially in edible form, which isn’t harmful to the lungs); is unlikely to significantly increase the current number of users, even among teenagers (though this may be because illicit use is underreported); doesn’t necessarily up the number of motor vehicle fatalities, though New York has seen a rise in drug-related fatal and injurious crashes; and would lower the state’s policing, trial, and imprisonment costs.
The study did acknowledge that those with serious mental illnesses, including psychosis, use marijuana at high rates, and function more poorly the more they use it. And it estimated that anywhere from 8.9 to 30 percent of weed users become dependent on it. But it concluded that “no insurmountable obstacles to regulation of marijuana were raised” by experts consulted in various fields.
Here’s who will be on Cuomo’s joint committee:
- David Holtgrave, PhD, Dean, School of Public Health, University at Albany
- R. Lorraine Collins, PhD, Associate Dean for Research, University at Buffalo
- Jeff Reynolds, PhD, CEO, Family and Children’s Association of Long Island
- Brendan Cox, former Albany Police Chief
- Angela H. Hawken, PhD, Professor of Public Policy, NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management
- Natasha Schüll, PhD, Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU Steinhardt
- Tracie Gardner, Associate Director at the Legal Action Center
- Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, MS, Professor, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
- Counsel to the Governor Alphonso David
- Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker
- Budget Director Robert Mujica
- Chief Diversity Officer for New York State Lourdes Zapata
- Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan
- Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez
- Office of Children and Family Services Acting Commissioner Sheila Poole
- Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner Paul Karas
- New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II
- Acting Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Nonie Manion
- New York State Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball
- Empire State Development Corporation Commissioner Howard Zemsky