New York Governor Andrew Cuomo today said that he will support legalization of adult use of cannabis as a key part of the 2019 legislative agenda. In fact news reports suggest he wants to get this done within the first 100 days of his new term next year.
In his remarks on the subject he focused on reversing the stigma of cannabis use and eliminating the targeting of people of color in enforcement of anti-cannabis laws. According to ABC News, in New York City, Comptroller Scott Stringer estimated that legalizing cannabis could yield as much as $1.3 billion in annual tax revenue for the state and about $350 million for New York City alone.
In August the Governor commissioned a work group to focus on drafting the legislation, following the advice of a task force that the benefits of legalization outweigh the risks. The work group has been conducting “listening sessions” throughout the state.
As recently as 2017 the Governor had called cannabis a gateway drug. Given the national trend to legalization and the fact that New York’s neighbor, New Jersey, is about to pass adult use legislation, however, Cuomo has felt political pressure to move ahead.
Following guidelines already in place at the New York Department of Health, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill last month formally adding “acute pain management” to its list of conditions for which medical cannabis can be prescribed. This change is important since it allows doctors to offer cannabis as an alternative to opioids for acute pain, not just chronic pain, which was previously added to the list. Substance use disorder sufferers also would be permitted under the bill to obtain medical cannabis to manage their pain, again with the hope of avoiding the use of opioids.
We need not recite the well-documented human destruction that has been caused by the US opioid epidemic. Not limited to those with addictive tendencies, many are innocently prescribed these drugs following surgeries or with other acute pain and become hooked. Now NY doctors will have a state legal alternative in these situations. And while there are no clear statistics yet, a study published by JAMA in April of this year concludes, “[L]iberalized prescribing of marijuana may result in decreased use of opioids, and hence, fewer subsequent opioid-related overdose events.” In this population-based, cross-sectional study using Medicaid prescription data for 2011 to 2016, medical marijuana laws and adult-use marijuana laws were associated with lower opioid prescribing rates.
As we know, Gov. Cuomo in the last year or so has gone from considering cannabis a gateway drug to appearing to support adult use legislation, which is currently being drafted by a task force he commissioned. If he wins reelection in November, which is widely expected, many believe he will support such legislation if passed. His Republican opponent, Marc Molinaro, previously supported adult use legalization but recently has been stopping short, agreeing with the availability of medical cannabis and decriminalization to avoid cannabis users facing jail time.
The New York Times reported yesterday that the New York State Health Department is ready to recommend legalizing adult use of cannabis in the Empire State. Commissioner Howard Zucker was quoted as saying they had reviewed the pluses and minuses and concluded, in a study requested by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, that “the pros outweighed the cons.” The study, started in January, has not been released yet.
Governor Cuomo, as recently as last year, said that cannabis is a “gateway drug.” But he is now facing strong opposition on the issue from his primary opponent Cynthia Nixon. Even his Republican opponent wants to legalize cannabis and use the money to fix New York’s transportation system. He is also feeling pressure from New Jersey’s apparent plan to legalize adult use in the near future, not to mention Massachusetts’ full adult use rollout commencing very soon. This led to his commissioning the Zucker study.
Even with this study recommending legalization, the NY legislature would have to pass a law to make it happen. Republicans, who tend to be more anti-legalization, currently control the Senate while Democrats control the Assembly. So there is no certainty of getting a bill passed. But it appears the momentum is building towards adult use legislation in the nation’s fourth largest state.
In his annual budget address yesterday, NY Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his plan to form a task force to study possible legalization of the adult use of cannabis in the Empire State. Currently the state permits the sale of cannabis only for medical reasons.
Less than a year ago, Cuomo referred to cannabis as a gateway drug and was widely perceived not to be supportive of legalization. Observers believe, however, that politics may be forcing his hand. Neighboring New Jersey’s new Governor Murphy has announced his intention to legalize adult use of cannabis there. In addition, a potential Republican opponent to Cuomo’s reelection this year has announced his support of legalization in New York.
Currently, while cannabis remains illegal under US federal law, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use. More states are expected to approve legal sales later this year in the November elections. Others, like New Jersey, are considering legalization through legislation as opposed to voter referendum. As we know, California’s adult use program was launched to great fanfare on January 1 of this year.
New York, with nearly 20 million people, is the fourth largest US state. This creates the potential for a significant market for legal cannabis sales, state tax and tourism revenues and job creation. Legalization could be particularly helpful for New York’s struggling upstate region, which has not seen major job growth in the current economic recovery.
Forming a task force is a long way from legalization and the opening of cannabis stores in Times Square. Cuomo will center the proposed study within the NY Department of Health, which currently oversees the medical marijuana program. He is asking that the task force look at the economic and health impact of legalization.