New York Officials Draft Proposal to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

New York City at night

NEW YORK – Gov. Andrew Cuomo published a press release Thursday announcing that he has appointed a panel to draft marijuana legislation. The governor based his decision to appoint the pot panel based on the findings of the New York Department of Health. The department conducted a study which determined that legalizing weed in the state had more pros than cons and recommended that the state legalize the drug.

The New York Department of Health added opioid addiction to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana back in June. New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says that any negative impact of legalizing recreational marijuana can be avoided with education and regulation. Zucker added that marijuana was safer than opioids and directly decreases opioid overdoses by replacing painkillers with marijuana.

Gov. Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act in 2014, which legalized medical marijuana in New York State, and he plans to expand with recreational marijuana.

"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," said the statement. He added that he would depend on the expert panel to create a model program for adult-use marijuana in New York.

The panel includes a group of 20 professionals such as law enforcement, professors, and people from the governor's administration. The panel is responsible for drafting the marijuana legislation which will be presented to the State Legislature in January for consideration.

The press release stated that the move will serve to decrease the number of people trapped in the criminal justice system for petty pot crimes in the state, while also providing more access to the medical marijuana program.

The Democratic Party in New York endorsed recreational marijuana in May, and actress and activist Cynthia Nixon announced that she would be challenging the governor for his job in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Cuomo used to believe that marijuana was a gateway drug, and critics say his outspoken challenger partnered with the endorsement of marijuana from the Democratic Party pushed him into changing his position on the drug.

Cuomo has said that his thinking evolved once he became aware of with the facts, and with 61 percent of Americans supporting recreational marijuana and 63 percent of New Yorkers in support of legalization during an election year, the governor had to go with the flow.

Free the Weed

Legalizing marijuana in the state will generate more than $248 million in tax revenue for New York with estimates running as high as to $677 million. The health department study recommended the money be used for education and health care in the state.

Legalization in the state is also expected to decrease racism associated with higher arrest and incarceration rates for people of color. The New York Times reported that the NYPD arrested people of color at 8 times the rate of white people in NYC and 15 times the rate in Manhattan. Both the Manhattan and Brooklyn DA's said that their offices will no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana crimes as a result of the report.

Gov. Cuomo's statement indicated that it would atone for the racial discrimination associated with marijuana criminalization by recommending prior criminal records of low-level marijuana-crimes to be sealed.

The counsel to the Governor Alphonso David will oversee the panel and assist with engaging the panel with the state's Senate leaders to garner support for the proposal before it is presented to the Legislature in January.