Study Recommends New York Legalize Recreational Marijuana

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A study ordered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recommends legalizing marijuana for adult use in New York, state health commissioner Howard Zucker said Monday.

“I will finalize that report and obviously bring it to the governor,” he said at a meeting with medical marijuana practitioners in Brooklyn.

New York would become the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana if the governor and lawmakers act favorably on the study’s recommendation, which comes as little surprise to anyone who has followed the issue in New York.

The governor ordered the study at his State of the State address in January, signaling a shift in his own attitudes about marijuana, which he had previously lambasted as a “gateway”drug. The Department of Health led the study and convened experts and stakeholders “from across the state,” Zucker said Monday.

“We looked at public safety, public health, economics,” he said. “Some of the variables in there are issues of taxes, how would you tax it, where would you grow marijuana, how would you distribute it, what age, what about driving, all these different things. There’s a lot of variables there. We sat there and looked at all those variables. We weighed them. We looked at the pros. We looked at the cons. And when we were done we realized that the pros outweigh the cons.”

A copy of the study was not made available Monday. The Department of Health referred all comment about it back to the remarks Zucker made.

New York, a state obsessed with being “first” on progressive issues, is in the middle of a region where recreational marijuana is either already legal or about to be legal. Nine states, including Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, as well as Washington, D.C., have legalized the drug. Canada is on the verge of legalizing it. And New Jersey, spurred by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, is exploring the possibility.

At the same meeting Monday, Zucker also announced that anyone with an opioid prescription can qualify for the state’s medical marijuana program, a move designed to prevent opioid addiction amid a deadly and growing epidemic.

Medical marijuana has been shown to drastically reduce pain, sometimes more effectively than opioids, among patients with pain both chronic and acute. While those living with chronic pain can currently qualify for medical marijuana under the state’s program, those with acute or temporary pain cannot.

But as opioid addiction continues to kill New Yorkers and Americans at epidemic-level rates, there have been growing calls for New York to expand its medical marijuana program in hopes of possibly reducing the widespread use of prescription painkillers like Oxycontin, hydrocodone and Vicodin. In a Times Union story published last week, Capital Region residents living with chronic pain said they were able to stop taking opioids after discovering medical marijuana for pain.

In other cases, chronic pain patients have used the marijuana as a supplement to the opioid, increasing their use of the former while decreasing their use of the latter, which is far more addictive and, when taken in excess quantity, can cause death.