January 31st, 2019
By Kelly Weimert
Many political leaders are finally beginning to see the benefits that legalizing recreational cannabis can bring to a community and economy, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is among the latest to shift his stance on whether recreational marijuana should be legalized.
In December of 2018, Cuomo gave an inaugural speech outlining his plans for the first 100 days of his third term, and legalizing recreational marijuana was pegged as among his top priorities. Cuomo is one of many politicians to change their tune on cannabis after seeing its widespread support–a Quinnipac University poll in May of 2018 showed that 63% of New Yorkers favor legal cannabis–and the positive impact legalization has on communities, particularly with respect to business, the economy, and criminal justice.
Dubbing cannabis as a dangerous “gateway drug” as recently as 2017, Cuomo now champions the legalization of recreational marijuana while citing the damage its prohibition does to marginalized populations. During his inauguration speech, before proposing recreational legalization, Cuomo said, “The fact is, we have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and the well-off, and one for everyone else. And that’s going to end… Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.”
The Evolution of Cuomo’s Stance on Marijuana
In his eight years in office, Cuomo has evolved considerably on the marijuana issue. When he initially took office in 2010, Cuomo argued that the “dangers of medical marijuana outweigh the benefits.” However, by 2014, as it became clear that the majority support the legalization of medical marijuana, Cuomo signed New York’s medical marijuana program into law, albeit with heavy restrictions—Cuomo banned smokable forms of the drug.
Cuomo continued to oppose recreational marijuana but directed New York’s Department of Health to study the pros and cons of legalizing it. Due in part to Cuomo’s primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, running on a firm stance to legalize recreational cannabis, the study was completed earlier than initially planned and found that the benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana outweigh the drawbacks.
Among those benefits include the Department of Health report’s projection that recreational legalization could bring in between $248 and $677 million in new tax revenue during its first year. The report also cited legal marijuana’s potential ability to combat the ongoing opioid crisis while minimizing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Given the tax revenue projections, many political advocates and officials are creating proposals for the best ways to allocate the additional funds. One proposal is to use the funds to improve New York City’s deteriorating public transportation system. A transportation expert at New York University, Mitchell Moss, released a report supporting the idea, citing that more than 62% of Americans support legal cannabis and the new revenue that legalization could bring in can make a major dent in the $40 billion subway officials say is needed to update the transportation system.
Other revenue proposals include investing the money into the marginalized communities that have been disproportionately prosecuted for marijuana use and sale, namely African-American and Latino communities. In fact, some political leaders have said they won’t support recreational legalization without a promise to allocate profits to those communities. Brooklyn Democrat, Assemblyman Walter Mosley, stated that the legislature “cannot move forward with an adult-use program until we know that these injustices of the past are made right.”
It goes without saying that national cannabis companies and entrepreneurs are delighted about the prospect of legalization and may have had a part in changing Cuomo’s stance. Many companies gave substantial donations to Cuomo and other political officials before 2018’s election.
Despite Cuomo’s stated agenda to legalize recreational marijuana, it remains to be seen what legalization will look like. Cuomo did not provide any specific plans for how he aims to do it and what regulations will be in place.
Since stating, as recently as last year, that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has completely shifted his stance and now plans to make legalizing recreational cannabis among his top priorities during his first 100 days in office.
Cuomo’s change of heart is largely due to a report by New York’s Department of Health stating that the benefits of recreational legalization outweigh the potential drawbacks, particularly with respect to the economy and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. However, specific plans for legalization remain to be seen as Cuomo didn’t give any specifics with respect to what recreational legalization will look like and what regulatory measures he plans to put in place.
About Ryan Allway
Mr. Allway has over a decade of experience in the financial markets as both a private investor and financial journalist. He has been actively involved in the cannabis industry since its inception, covering public and private companies.
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