Late last year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo expressed his support for legalizing recreational marijuana.
A Dec. 18 story published by the New York Times estimated this measure would generate at least $1.7 billion in annual sales. The state could reap a nice return on taxing this amount of money.
And there was hope this proposal would have sufficient support in Albany. The New York Times noted that Democrats won control of the state Senate in November and were already the majority in the Assembly. Many of these legislators appeared to side with the governor on this issue.
But by the end of this year’s legislative session, not enough Senate Democrats could be won over to pass the bill. Allowing the possession and use of recreational marijuana will have to wait for another year.
State lawmakers, however, had a consolation prize. They approved a bill to decriminalize smaller amounts of marijuana. Mr. Cuomo signed the measure on July 29.
“The legislation will treat possession of less than 1 ounce as a violation subject to a $50 fine. And possession of between 1 [and] 2 ounces, currently a misdemeanor, will become a violation punishable by up to a $200 fine,” according to a story published July 29 by the Watertown Daily Times. “Possession of more than two ounces still will be considered a crime. Also under the bill, … smoking marijuana in public, currently a misdemeanor, will be a violation. According to the governor’s news release, the legislation will make marijuana enforcement ‘fairer and more equitable’ by not only reducing the penalties but removing criminal penalties for possession of marijuana [less than] 2 ounces.”
Mr. Cuomo said that racial and ethnic minorities have traditionally been penalized more under marijuana laws than have whites. He said he previously proposed decriminalizing smaller amounts in 2013.
The governor and state legislators may view this move as another step toward legalizing recreational marijuana, and it will offer some modest benefits. But it really doesn’t do anything positive for two issues that would be addressed with making marijuana possession and use fully legal.
Under this measure, people will still need to buy marijuana on the black market. Legalizing the substance would allow the state to regulate this form of commerce.
It could prohibit the sale of marijuana to minors and impose penalties on those who provide it to younger individuals. The state also could mandate that information be provided concerning the potency of marijuana products and any substances used in producing the plants.
Non-flower products make use of cannabinoids, chemical compounds found in cannabis. They are infused into marijuana edibles such as baked goods or gummies. Cannabinoids also can be used to make certain types of oils.
And aside from regulating marijuana, the state could tax it. Imagine the money that would flow into Albany’s coffers when this happens.
According to a story published June 12 by the Denver Post, Colorado surpassed $1 billion in tax, license and fee revenue on sales exceeding $6.5 billion since 2014. Washington state collected $319 million in tax revenue last year, and California collected $354 million from recreational marijuana in 2018.
Legalizing recreational marijuana would legitimize a practice that adults engage in that has a highly established market and reduces the stigma of something widely available. Societal norms are changing, and usage is more prevalent.
So legislators need to rethink their position on marijuana and remove the prohibition. Exerting greater control over how it’s sold in open market would enhance consumer safety — and the additional tax revenue would be nice.