Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in a speech last week that he will advocate for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“The fact is we have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and the well off, and one for everyone else,” Cuomo sad during a speech in Manhattan, noting the injustice has “for too long targeted the African-American and minority communities.”
Democrats captured the state Senate in November, and the Assembly is already controlled by Democrats, likely setting the stage for the swift approval of legalization in early 2019. As Cuomo looks ahead to his third term, the Dec. 17 speech detailed his goals for his first 100 days of the New Year.
The debate over legalization going into the new session could be heated with opponents of the bill claiming allowing marijuana usage could lead to harder drug use.
Outgoing Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra sent a letter to the state earlier this year outlining the negative effects of passing the law.
According to a study conducted by the state health department, Scuccimarra said youth marijuana smoking would increase and between 8.9 percent and 30 percent of the population who uses marijuana will develop some form of dependence, pointing to other states that have legalized marijuana. Overall, there would be more drug use within the state, Scuccimarra said, citing the study.
“Please consider the epidemic of drug overdose deaths in New York in recent years. Legalizing recreational use of marijuana will increase availability for adolescents and decrease the perception of risk of harm, which will ultimately lead to an overall increase in drug use,” Scuccimarra wrote on behalf of the county task force, One Army in the War on Addiction.
Drug Crisis in our Backyard, a non-profit that fights addiction, sent out an email blast encouraging residents to write to Cuomo prior to his announcement. The organization, which was founded by one Mahopac and one Somers family that each lost a son to an overdose, provided a letter template that argued against legalization.
“The path to marijuana legalization is a slippery slope, and it will have grave repercussions for future generations. As the country is in the grip of the worst drug epidemic in history, we have to ask ourselves whether legalization of marijuana will serve our communities,” part of the letter stated. “The answer is obvious: it won’t.”
Cuomo was previously against legalization but has changed his view on the issue. There has been wide speculation that Cuomo might run for president in 2020.
Neighboring New Jersey is also moving toward legalizing recreational use of marijuana; in all, 10 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana.
New York State would see a new tax revenue surge of between $248 million and $677 million in the first year of legalization, according to a state Department of Health commission report released in July. How to use that revenue is up for debate, with some advocating for the money to be spent on New York City’s subway system while others propose investing it in black and Latino communities where the criminalization of marijuana has hit hard.
Working Families Party member Andrew Falk, of Patterson, said there is a racial justice component to legalizing marijuana because black and Latino people are criminalized at a higher rate for marijuana use than white people, even though each group of people use the drug roughly the same amount. He said legalization would be the moral thing to do in order to provide equity.
“We should legalize marijuana and expunge people’s criminal records so that we have more room in our jails for crooked bankers and politicians,” Falk said.