The legislative battle over marijuana continues to rage in Albany.
While some advocates continue to speak out against allowing “big marijuana” to set up shop in the Empire State, the primary disagreement amongst Albany Democrats is not about whether to legalize recreational marijuana. It’s about how the tax revenue should be distributed once marijuana has become legal.
As the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle recently noted, recreational pot legislation stalled last year “amid fights about just how the state should take steps to aid minority communities that were disproportionately harmed by the decades-long drug war. Those disputes remain unresolved.” Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and others call for half of the pot revenue to be used for grants to help such minority communities. Leader Stewart-Cousins has drawn a line in the sand on this issue, refusing to support pot legislation that does not reserve revenue for minority communities. However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo prefers to place marijuana-related tax revenue into “a fund that could be used for a wider variety of expenses, including encouraging minorities, women and disadvantaged farmers to join the cannabis industry, public health campaigns and offsetting the cost of regulating marijuana.”
As the marijuana debate continues, it’s important to remember three things. First, while the authorities may have treated persons arrested for low-level marijuana offenses differently based on their race or their zip code, persons who were arrested were chiefly responsible for their own predicament. Those individuals knowingly possessed, used, or sold a dangerous legal drug. Second, contrary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to include marijuana legislation in the state budget, there is no great urgency about passing a marijuana bill. Third, marijuana policy should be guided by the best interests of the people, not by government’s ever-increasing obsession with tapping into new funding sources.