In recent weeks, the full legalization of recreational marijuana has again been mentioned as a cure for New York’s fiscal woes.
At a recent media event to promote his ill-timed new book, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was asked when recreational marijuana might become legal. His answer? “‘Soon, because now we need the money . . . and we’re going to be searching the cupboards for revenue. And I think that is going to put marijuana over the top.’” These comments indicate that recreational marijuana could be a major 2021 legislative priority for the Governor, who opposed medical and recreational marijuana when he first took office but has since flip-flopped his way into supporting full legalization.
It is important to be clear about what recreational marijuana legalization would mean for the Empire State. Legalization does not mean removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession. (In fact, the possession of small amounts of marijuana is no longer a crime in New York.) Rather, legalization means that marijuana could be sold and marketed like alcohol or cigarettes. It means recreational marijuana billboards on our highways and pot shops on our street corners. It likely means more marijuana-related health problems, more traffic fatalities, and more headaches for employers (the current marijuana bill would ban workplace “discrimination” based on off-hours marijuana use).
Gov. Cuomo’s argument that legalizing pot would help address the state’s fiscal crisis is absurd. As noted by the Democrat and Chronicle, the Governor’s Office estimates that pot legalization would bring in $300 million in annual tax revenue. The state’s current budget gap is somewhere north of $60 billion. This means that even if the Governor’s projections are correct (and NYCF believes them to be overly optimistic), pot legalization would yield less than one percent of the revenue needed to close the gap. Legalizing pot for budgetary reasons is like trying to empty an Olympic-sized swimming pool with a bucket.
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms urges you to contact your legislators stating opposition to this pot-for-profit plan.