Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls for New York to legalize recreational marijuana

"We must end the needless and unjust convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma and let's legalize the adult use of recreational use of marijuana once and for all," the governor said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls for New York to legalize recreational marijuana
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
  • Governor Andrew Cuomo said he'd pursue the legislation in 2019.
  • New York would become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.
  • The legalization of marijuana in a prominent state like New York would likely represent a landmark shift in how the country views marijuana regulation.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday he's aiming to legalize recreational marijuana in New York in early 2019.

The Democrat governor, who was in Manhattan giving an address that outlined an agenda for his first 100 days in office for his upcoming third term, said "we have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and the well off, and one for everyone else," adding that some policies disproportionately affected African-American and minority communities.

"And that's going to end," he said in Manhattan. "We must end the needless and unjust convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma and let's legalize the adult use of recreational use of marijuana once and for all."

Cuomo, who as recently as 2017 called marijuana a "gateway drug," had ordered the state health department to conduct a study forecasting the impacts that legalization would bring to New York. The results, published over the summer, found that the benefits of legalizing pot for adults "would outweigh the potential negative impacts," and predicted that legalization would yield, at the very least, about $250 million in annual tax revenue.

It's unclear where that tax revenue would go, but some groups have suggested putting it toward New York City's subway system or investing it in black and Latino communities that have been hit hardest by drug enforcement policies like stop-and-frisk.

The 'great experiment' in pot-friendly states

New York would become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana if it passes the legislation, potentially joining Alaska, Colorado, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia. What's more, a total of 33 states allow for medical marijuana in some form.

It's hard to say exactly how recreational legalization is working out in other states so far, but it seems generally positive, at least in financial terms. In Colorado, for instance, total marijuana sales hit a record $1.51 billion in 2017, generating more economic output than 90 percent of all other industries in the state, as the Colorado Spring Gazette reports.

Still, it hasn't been without costs. The black market for pot is actually booming in Colorado, despite its legal status, due to illegal growers who move there to grow pot that they eventually sell in other states where marijuana is still illegal. Other reports show that more adults in Colorado are smoking pot after legalization, though consumption rates among kids have remained stable in recent years.

​A shift in the national conversation

Marijuana remains a controlled substance at the federal level. But if New York decides to legalize recreational marijuana, it could represent a landmark shift in the way the country views marijuana regulation, given the state's prominence. The legislation likely wouldn't have a hard time passing, given that Democrats captured the State Senate in November, and a Quinnipiac University poll from May showed that 63 percent of New Yorkers favored legalization.

Nationally, a Pew survey from October showed that 62% of Americans favored legalizing recreational marijuana, up from 31% in 2000.

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