“We will legalize adult-use recreational cannabis, joining 15 states that have already done so,” announced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “This will raise revenue and end the failed prohibition of this product that has left so many communities of color over-policed and over-incarcerated.”
With the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey, New York is now pressed harder than ever to bring legal pot to the state, a project that Gov. Cuomo had enthusiastically supported in the past. In 2019, New York advanced marijuana decriminalization and explored options for total legalization, which haven’t borne fruit yet. The governor chose to make it a priority for 2021, highlighting it in this year’s State of the State address.
“To close our $15 billion budget gap on our own would require extraordinary and negative measures,” Gov. Cuomo explained. Even by raising taxes on the rich, increasing the tax burden on the middle class, freezing labor contracts on public employees, cutting education funding 20%, “even after all of that pain, we would still need billions in cuts to health care in the middle of a pandemic. […] It would be devastating.” After painting that grim picture, Cuomo brought up the legalization of adult-use cannabis as an element of the solution, promising it will pass in the immediate future.
According to the governor office’s predictions, legal pot “will create more than 60,000 new jobs, spurring $3.5 billion in economic activity and generating more than $300 million in tax revenue when fully implemented.” This is in line with the figures seen in Colorado or Washington, who have had time to fully implement an adult-use market and see additional yearly revenue in the hundreds of millions. It would create one of the nation’s biggest legal markets for marijuana, boosting business in areas as diverse as real estate, banking and marketing, as well as cannabis itself. Additionally, it is one of the most efficient cost-saving measures for a state like New York struggling with financial hardship, as it significantly reduces arrests, court hearings and prison populations.
How to Make It Happen
Gov. Andrew Cuomo already attempted to pass marijuana legalization twice, but it was shot down by lawmakers. This year, the governor is trying to push it through his newly revealed budget proposal, taking advantage of the unprecedented public support for marijuana and the passage of legalization in New Jersey—if it does not pass, New York will lose astonishing amounts of money to their next-door neighbor, but legislators have expressed confidence it will pass.
The proposal establishes three levels of taxes on recreational cannabis products: The normal state and local sales taxes; a potency tax at a rate comprised between 0.7 cents and 4 cents per milligram of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) depending on the type of cannabis product; and a flat 10.25% tax on the final retail price.
While a large portion of the money raised through cannabis sales would supplement New York’s budget, the rest would go to social equity efforts and reinvestment in communities negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. The distribution of this potential treasure trove of resources has attracted criticism from activists, who believe that Cuomo’s plan is not progressive enough.
“It is disappointing that his proposal, as stated, devotes only a fraction of the funding that is needed in these program areas,” said Melissa Moore, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Governor needs to check his math. After a period of five years, the funds directed to the communities hardest hit by the marijuana arrest crusade would amount to a small share of the tax revenue that the state would receive.”
Despite the Republican party’s line being the complete rejection of marijuana reform, New York top Republican representative, Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, admitted that legalization will “get done” this year. Marijuana legalization was a key proposal in 2020, and “it just got pushed off because of COVID last year,” Rep. Barclay told WWNY-TV.
Be it to support New York state during the economic downturn of coronavirus or to pursue social equity and human rights, even opponents of the governor’s proposal seem to agree that the legalization of adult-use marijuana is an inevitability.