Just fewer than two years since insisting it was a “gateway drug,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is singing a different tune regarding the legalization of cannabis for recreational use in The Empire State.
“It’s a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there’s a lot of proof that that’s true,” Governor Cuomo said in February of 2017. “There’s two sides to the argument. But I, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana.”
Fast forward to present day, and Governor Cuomo is in favor of establishing a regulated, legal market. This was showcased during a recent speech when Cuomo said, “Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.”
“Legalize Adult Use of Recreational Marijuana,” is also included in his agenda for the first 100 days of 2019. Ending the racial disparity in marijuana related arrests was a major motivator in his shift from opposition. According to the agenda, “Governor Cuomo will end the disproportionate criminalization of one race over another by regulating, legalizing and taxing adult use of recreational marijuana.”
This shift in opinion did not happen overnight. After reading a report from the state Health Department in July of last year, Cuomo acknowledged that, “The situation on marijuana is changing.” The report, titled “Assessment of the Potential Impact of Regulated Marijuana in New York State,” started with a brief history of cannabis in the United states, covering how it was widely used as medicine and sold in pharmacies until the 1930s. The report concluded that there are more advantages to establishing a regulated market than there are disadvantages.
One of the most compelling potential benefits mentioned in the report was the tax revenue the state could collect. An analysis released by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer estimated that the legal cannabis market in New York could exceed $3 billion. The tax revenue estimated from sales could be as much as $436 million each year. That amount is difficult to ignore when state schools and law enforcement agencies would benefit greatly from the funds.
Job creation, economic development, fewer minority arrests and the opportunity to explore different options regarding personal health were also listed among the potential benefits that may come with a legal market in New York. “The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in N.Y.S. outweigh the potential negative impacts,” the Health Department concluded. “Areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations.”
Governor Cuomo also recognizes that maintaining prohibition may soon be a waste of state resources since people can make legal purchases in Massachusetts, where retail shops opened doors to the public in November of last year. Legislators in New Jersey are also working to pass legislation to legalize the recreational use and retail sale, and Connecticut is predicted to legalize soon as well.
If New York beats New Jersey to the punch, it will become the 11th state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. It would also be second to legalize by state legislature instead of a voter initiative. The Pew Research Center released a poll in 2018 which revealed that 62 percent of people in America are in favor of legalizing marijuana. An even larger number of millennials, 74 percent, responded that they supported legalization. The number of those in favor has increased since 2015 when only 53 percent reported that they believed cannabis should be legal in the United States.
A new Bloomberg Politics poll asked Americans how long they think it will take for full legalization of marijuana to occur nationwide. 13 percent of respondents said the kind herb would be legal in each state in the nation within the next 20 years, while 26 percent predicted only 10 years and 17 percent said that only five years would be necessary to achieve this pinnacle milestone. Only two percent were insanely optimistic enough to assume that nationwide legalization would happen in the next year.
However, it should be noted that 32 percent of respondents, or nearly 1 out of 3, predicted that cannabis would never be legal in all 50 states.
Does Polling Equal Reality?
How does reality stack up to these polling numbers? Currently, only four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have legal recreational marijuana, while 24 states have some form of medical cannabis law in place — including Georgia, which legalized cannabis oil for a limited set of conditions only days ago.
Those who believe that nationwide conversion, at either the federal level or via the simple establishment of laws in every state in the nation, is inevitable in the short term are underestimating the determination and resources of anti-marijuana legalization efforts — including police forces, influential politicians, and billionaire investors. Many other organizations oppose recreational legalization on moral or religious grounds.
States that are likely to legalize next, at a taxed and regulated recreational level, include Ohio, California, Michigan, and Vermont. While the Bloomberg study included just more than 1,000 adults, it reflects trends in public perception regarding the efficacy of cannabis for medical use and the rights of both states and tax-paying citizens to choose their medication, entertainment, and intoxicants.
Healthy — and sometimes angry — dialog over tax rates, grow and possession limits, and which medical conditions should be covered are currently being raged over a variety of bills and plans across the nation (including states with existing laws in place).
Outdoor Gardens & Tax Rates Debated
If laws are passed in states like Ohio, which is proposing to voters a 20 percent tax rate and a limit of only ten production facilities (owned by ten separate wealthy investors), things like outdoor grows will be outlawed and home grows will be limited to four plants. Research into cannabis efficacy, as well as the development of innovative medical strains of the plant, may be hampered. California will face robust tax rate debates and whether limits should be imposed on outdoor gardens.
The Bloomberg Politics poll comes on the heels of a more robust Pew Research Center study that revealed that 53 percent of Americans favor full marijuana legalization. 41 percent of those responding said their reason for supporting legalization was marijuana’s value as a medicine.
Additional states in the near future will join the bandwagon of those allowing robust medical marijuana programs. While support remains higher for medical marijuana laws than recreational legalization, the number of states participating in both recreational and medical legalization efforts is surely on the rise.
When even traditionally conservative swing states like Ohio join the game, the direction of this trend becomes clear: States need tax revenues to repair deteriorating roads, bridges, and schools, while arguments against allowing very sick sufferers of epilepsy, MS, Crohn’s, AIDS, and cancer to treat themselves with (or be prescribed) cannabis are increasingly considered inhumane and unjust.
The results of a recent marijuana legalization survey of Americans by the Pew Research Center was released on Tuesday, as millions were busily preparing tax returns. The numbers mostly reinforce existing studies by a variety of organizations that, while nuanced, reflect that the majority of Americans are in favor of legal marijuana, both for medical and recreational use.
As one might expect, more Americans support medical than recreational legalization. Support of marijuana legalization of any kind is significantly higher among younger people than those who are middle aged or the elderly. Overall, 53 percent of Americans favor full legalization, down a single point from last year’s Pew study. 41 percent of responses said their reason for supporting legalization was marijuana’s value as a medicine, versus the 36 percent who said their main justification was the fact that pot is no more dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes.
More Voters Favor Legalization
The report also revealed that the limited success of the marijuana legalization movement, illustrated by four states and the District of Columbia having legalized recreational cannabis and 24 states allowing some form of legal medical use, is convincing more and more voters that legalization is a good thing.
As more Americans learn the reality of medical cannabis and people become educated, they become much more supportive of legalization efforts and ballot initiatives (the classic domino effect). It could also be argued that greater numbers of legal, open cannabis consumers also serve to de-stigmatize the herb, showing those around them that it is actually a medicine and doesn’t carry negative side effects, like lower IQ or mental illness.
Said Tom Angell, Chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group:
“The more that people learn about marijuana and look at the benefits of legalization, the more likely they are to support reform.”
Among those 18-34, 68 percent support legalization. This is 16 points higher than the second most supportive age group of 35-50 year olds. The Pew survey revealed that millennials also supportive marijuana legalization across party lines, meaning a 20-year-old Republican might be in favor of legalization, while a 58-year-old Democrat might oppose it. However, among Republicans as a group — regardless of age — only 39 percent support legalization. Although this sounds like a low number, it is the highest marijuana approval rating among Republicans since Pew began the survey in 1969.
Opponents Lack Logic
Opponents of legalization point toward their belief that it is both dangerous and addictive. Somewhat tellingly, and an excellent example of circular logic, 19 percent of those who oppose legalization say it is because marijuana is illegal.
However, even 54 percent of Republicans said that the federal government should not interfere with states that have legalized cannabis — along with 58 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Independents (an argument leading many political pundits to suggest that Hillary Clinton would be wise to support full legalization). Among outright opponents of legalization, even 38 percent said that the federal government should allow states to legalize and not interfere.