The report could pave the way for New York to join the nearly 10 states that have already legalized adult use marijuana.
A long-awaited forthcoming report by the New York Health Department will recommend that state lawmakers legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker last week announced that the report concludes that “a regulated, legal marijuana program [ought to] be available to adults in the state.”
“We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons, and when were done, we realized that the pros outweigh the cons,” said Zucker.
“We have new facts, we have new data, and as a result of that, we made a decision to move forward. So that is the decision at this point: to have a regulated legal marijuana program for adults,” he added.
The study, commissioned in January by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was completed in consultation with specialists in public safety, public health, and economics. It is still being finalized and its release is expected soon.
The report’s findings represent Cuomo’s evolving attitude on cannabis. In the past, Cuomo has been hesitant to publicly support marijuana legalization, even at one point explaining that he remained “unconvinced” that legalization was preferable and last year reiterating the myth that cannabis is a “gateway drug.”
His call for the study is believed to be at least partly in response to the strong call for legalization by gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, who will challenge Cuomo in November. He has also been under growing pressure from legalization supporters.
A legal and regulated marijuana market in New York State would generate an estimated $435.7 million annually in tax revenue, according to a recent report from the New York City Comptroller’s office.
While more than 6 of 10 New Yorkers support total marijuana legalization, a marijuana ballot initiative is not an option. In New York, marijuana can only be legalized through an act of lawmakers. New York lawmakers remain divided on whether to legalize marijuana.
Zucker also announced that the Health Department would issue regulations to allow patients who have been prescribed opioids by their physicians to immediately qualify for the state’s medical marijuana program. Patients wishing to substitute cannabis for opioids will be able to do so.
“So that means if an individual is taking prescription opioids, they could take medical marijuana as part of the program that we are pushing forward to hopefully come off prescription opioids as well,” Zucker said.
Loosening Laws in NYC
The commissioner’s announcement comes just as New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York Police Department announced that the city would relax its enforcement of marijuana laws.
Starting September 1, police officers will issue summonses for public cannabis use rather than making arrests.
“No one should be smoking marijuana in public. It’s illegal. Period,” de Blasio said. “Is it happening every day? Yes. So we are trying to deal with it in the most productive, fair way.”
Officers will still arrest suspected marijuana users if they are on parole or probation, are driving while consuming, have an open warrant out for their arrest, have been arrested for a violent crime in the last three years, or fail to show identification.
The move is expected to eliminate at least 10,000 arrests a year, according to estimates from the mayor’s office.