New York State Commercializes Cannabis

On March 30, 2021, each house of the New York State Legislature passed the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) (Bill S.854-A-Krueger/A.1248-A-Peoples-Stokes). Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law the next morning. The new law legalizes recreational marijuana and allows the commercial sale of the drug to persons over 21. It will also allow the State of New York to tax the sale of marijuana.

The State Senate passed the bill first. The vote was 40-23; three Democrats—Sens. Joe Addabbo (D-Queens), Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) and Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck)—joined all 20 Senate Republicans in voting against the measure. The Assembly passed the legislation by a margin of 100 to 49.

Like many other bad policies, the MRTA is based on mistaken notions. This particular bill is based on a mistaken notion of justice. The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), recently asserted that redressing “racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition” was one of her chief goals in advancing this bill. Quite frankly, this assertion doesn’t make sense. If the Senator came to believe that laws against pollution, human trafficking, or child abuse were being enforced in a racially discriminatory manner, would she call for the full legalization of those actions? Of course not. If there truly has been bias in the way New York’s marijuana laws have been enforced, the solution to that problem is to take steps to eliminate that bias—not to legalize the drug. However, it is understandable that the Senator used this type of rhetoric in support of the MRTA. If the public can be persuaded that a bill will eliminate an injustice, it will likely support that bill—even if it doesn’t really solve the problem.

The MRTA is also based on an unnecessarily fatalistic view about marijuana use. During the Assembly floor debate on the MRTA, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), the bill’s Assembly sponsor, frankly acknowledged that she would not encourage anyone to use marijuana. The Assemblymember went on to add that many people are using the drug despite its illegality. This statement is certainly true, but it is irrelevant. Should the State of New York legalize other criminal acts on the grounds that people are going to commit those acts whether or not they are illegal? By this logic, we would have no criminal laws at all.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms expects that the MRTA, once implemented, will have a range of adverse effects upon the Empire State. Those adverse effects will include: Higher rates of marijuana use and marijuana addiction, poorer public health, more car accidents, and insignificant or negative fiscal consequences.

The MRTA does allow cities and towns to pass ordinances opting out of having marijuana-related facilities and businesses within their borders. NYCF recommends that cities and towns pass such ordinances to protect families and young people from this ill-advised law.