Marijuana legalization is a proposal that has been on the table in New York for years, but this year, more than ever, it seems to be both practical and inevitable, with 68% of Americans expressing their support in a recent Gallup poll. As the Assembly begins our next legislative session in January, I will work with my colleagues to craft a plan that will safely legalize and regulate recreational marijuana for adult use.
There are countless reasons why the time is right to legalize cannabis in New York, not the least of which is our current economic climate. States that have legalized recreational marijuana have collectively raised billions of dollars in tax revenue, which is used to help fund schools, roads, environmental restoration, and more. Each state has a different structure to determine where the marijuana tax revenue is spent, but the fact is that, especially in a fiscal crisis like the one we face, any amount of additional revenue coming into our state and local governments will positively impact our communities.
As of the November election, 14 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, with New Jersey also on the path to legalization after a ballot referendum passed with 67% approval. Three of those states, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Jersey, border New York and currently, or will, benefit from the business of New Yorkers who cross state lines to purchase cannabis. If we legalize marijuana in New York, we can make sure New Yorkers’ money stays in our state and bolsters our economy.
In addition to these states, Canada legalized marijuana for adult recreational use in 2018, and can be looked to as an example of responsible legalization. Earlier this year, the Canadian government released data showing a significant decrease in the market share of illegal cannabis and indicating that rates of cannabis use among youth and young adults have not changed since the country legalized back in 2018.
A lot of the opposition to marijuana legalization centers around safety concerns. It’s true that, with heavy usage, marijuana can lead to negative health effects, but the same can be said for both alcohol and tobacco, which are both legal for adult use. In fact, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are far more dangerous to one’s health than ingesting marijuana. To legalize cannabis is not to endorse its use, but to recognize the reality that people are using it and it’s hypocritical to treat it as if it’s somehow worse than alcohol and cigarettes. Perhaps more importantly, legalizing marijuana will allow for a higher level of safety for those using it; when someone buys marijuana right now, they just have to assume it’s safe because there’s no government agency regulating what’s in it.
What we’re seeing unfold in Canada and states that have legalized across the U.S. does not align with the scare tactics used by anti-legalization advocates. It’s time we recognize the inevitable and bring New York into the 21st century economy by legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use in 2021.