NY: Gov. Cuomo Proposes Study Of Recreational Marijuana Legalization

Photo Credit: The Associate Press

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants New York to fund a study of the possible impact of legalizing recreational marijuana in the state, the Democratic governor said at his annual budget address on Tuesday afternoon.

“Marijuana—things are happening,” Cuomo said, proposing a study by the state Department of Health to determine the health and economic impacts of legalizing the drug, which is already legal for certain medical purposes in the state.

The proposed study would also determine the criminal justice impact and consequences to New York state from legalization occurring in neighboring states, according to the governor’s budget PowerPoint presentation.

While details on the panel were scarce, Cuomo said it would include representatives of State Police to get the “facts” of marijuana legalization. Cuomo’s budget director, Robert Mujica, is slated to provide more details of the governor’s proposed budget later Tuesday. A final budget for the upcoming fiscal year is due by April 1.

The proposal to study recreational marijuana comes as New York faces a $4.4 billion budget deficit, where the governor and legislature are looking to shore up revenue.

The study proposed by the governor would be run by the same state agency that is charged with the state’s fledgling medical marijuana program.

New York’s medical marijuana program, signed into law by Cuomo in 2014, has struggled in its first few years of operation. The Cuomo administration had anticipated a $4 million annual revenue from a 7 percent excise tax when the medical marijuana program began in 2016. As of November, the state had collected $912,000 for the fiscal year—which began in April—putting it on track to surpass the $1 million revised revenue projection.

Neighboring Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana, following a ballot initiative, in December 2016. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue estimates that taxes on recreational marijuana could rake in between $44 million and $82 million in the next fiscal year.

New Jersey, which has its own medical marijuana program, also is considering legalizing the drug. Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned on legalizing marijuana, has said he’d sign legislation legalizing the drug if a bill is passed by the state Legislature. In Colorado, where recreational use of marijuana became legal in January 2014, the state received $247 million in 2017 from marijuana taxes, licenses and fee revenue, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind relatively Obama-era guidelines for lenient enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized cannabis has cast a  shadow over state laws legitimizing medical and recreational marijuana and the cannabis industry.