Although he likes to tout his leadership strategy as progressive, Governor Andrew Cuomo has until now resisted one thing most New Yorkers seem to agree on: Legalizing recreational marijuana. But on Friday, the New York State Health Department released its report on the "potential impact of regulated marijuana," which basically boils down to an emphatic yes for legalization. Health officials have determined that regulating weed could improve an impressive spectrum of public health variables, help mitigate racism in law enforcement, and also buoy tax revenues with an injection of hundreds of millions of dollars. Plus, the majority of people (63 percent of New Yorkers) seem pretty sold on the idea, regardless of their political affiliation.
"The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in New York State outweigh the potential negative impacts," the report concludes. People will smoke weed whether or not it's legal, and regulation would allow the state to impose quality standards on the product, improving safety. Further, the report notes, pot has proved useful in treating chronic pain, epilepsy, and nausea, and while it's true that smoking anything can harm a person's health, regulation would also allow for more top-level control over the way people ingest cannabis. Legalization would allow the government to better educate consumers on the health consequences of marijuana consumption, the report points out, which could theoretically minimize risky weed behaviors.
Where regulation could really succeed, according to the Health Department analysis, is in combating the opioid crisis and in reducing New York's disproportionate incarceration rates among people of color. If it were more easily available for pain management, the report argues, people may begin to rely less on prescription drugs, potentially reducing the number of opioid-related deaths in the state.
And despite the fact that usage rates remain steady regardless of the racial group in question, the report notes that black and Latino people are far more likely to be arrested and convicted on possession charges. In NYC, black and Latino people account for 86 percent of low-level marijuana arrests, though they make up just 55 percent of the total population. That trend persists even amid dropping drug arrest rates overall. With legalization, New York could see that pattern reversed, or at least improved.
On top of all that, the Health Department expects that regulating weed could create over 200,000 jobs, and estimates an influx of $173.3 million to $542.3 million in state revenue. New York is now bordered by states that have already or may soon legalize weed, the report says, while also acknowledging that pot isn't recommended or necessarily safe for everyone. A bill sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Liz Krueger would put restrictions in place to make sure people ages 21 and up use it as safely as possible.
Cuomo, historically a legalization opponent—see his questionable classification of marijuana as a "gateway drug" in February 2017—ordered the Health Department's investigation in January. With the publication of a New York Times article delving into the apparent racism behind weed-related arrest rates in May, however, Cuomo announced the expedited release of the regulation report. Speaking to reporters on Friday, he said he hadn't yet gone through the Health Department's findings. Too preoccupied with Thursday's fraud conviction of his "economic czar," Alain E. Kaloyeros, in a campaign-related bid-rigging trial, perhaps?
As Bloomberg reports, the Cuomo administration's sudden warming toward weed may have something to do with his gubernatorial opponent's progressive agenda. Cynthia Nixon views legalization as a key part of her platform, and her positions have seemed to push Cuomo to the left—a phenomenon the media has dubbed the "Cynthia Effect."
For her part, Nixon reportedly cast the timing of Friday's report as a diversion tactic. In a statement, she speculated that the governor "is hoping New Yorkers get too stoned to remember" how many of his aides have lately been targeted by corruption charges.