NY: GOP Governor Hopeful Seeks To Save Subway System By Legalizing Pot

Photo Credit: Jim McKnight

A Republican gubernatorial candidate says the subway system has gone to pot and now he wants to legalize recreational marijuana to help fix it.

Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra says he’d dedicate all the tax revenue generated by legalizing recreational pot to help fund needed transportation improvements.

“Adult use of marijuana can produce revenue for the state that can rebuild the MTA and our roads and bridges throughout the state,” said a source close to Giambra. “Many of our neighboring states now allow for adult use and New York will miss out on billions in revenue and further expand the black market.”

Giambra is expected to put out a formal proposal later in the campaign, the source said. Reform Party Chairman Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, said Giambra raised the issue of legalizing pot during a meeting last week to discuss the minor ballot line.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational pot, including Massachusetts and California. New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy supports the idea as well.

But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced the repeal of a 2013 Obama-era policy that protected legalized marijuana programs in various states from federal prosecutor intervention.

“As both a cancer survivor and someone who has seen the devastation of opioid addiction, Joel believes, and medical research supports, that prescribing marijuana to ease pain diverts people from becoming addicted to much harder drugs,” the Giambra source said.

Giambra also believes the current opioid crisis “is a direct result of a pay-to-play culture where government for years turned a blind eye in return for contributions from big pharma — resulting in the . . . opioid epidemic,” the source said.

Giambra last week called the New York transit system “a disgrace,” citing waste, inefficiency and what he called a pay-to-play culture that drives up costs and makes “commuting a hellish experience.”

His call to legalize pot to help the situation might play well in liberal New York City, where Republicans hope to make inroads, but also could hurt him among the party’s conservative base statewide, insiders say.

A year ago, Giambra, who until recently was a lobbyist, joined a group called New York Grows that called for the legalization of marijuana in New York.

Gov. Cuomo is expected to present the Legislature this week with a list of options for developing long-term funding streams for the financially beleaguered MTA, including a possible plan to charge vehicles more for driving into the most congested parts of Manhattan at peak times.

While the state approved a medical marijuana program during Cuomo’s tenure, he has said in the past he opposes legalizing the drug for recreational use.

A Cuomo spokesman had no immediate comment on Giambra’s plan to legalize pot to help fund the MTA.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, the only other Republican so far to declare he will seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination, shot down the idea of using recreational pot to help fund subway improvements.

“It is a mess, there’s no doubt about it,” he said of the mass transit system. “But I’m not so sure this is the way to address it.”

Kolb said he’s open to the idea of potentially legalizing recreational pot in the future, but first would like to see conclusive studies about the impact on issues like crime and drug use in states that have already done so before “making a full-throttled effort.”

He also said he’s opposed to adding new fees like congestion pricing to help the subways. He’d rather see the state create a dedicated funding stream out of existing resources, require the city and other communities in the MTA region to also provide more aid, and streamline system operations to make sure money is being spent “effectively and efficiently.”