New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state, a move that could bring in more than $1.7 billion in sales annually.
“Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all,” Cuomo announced during a speech in Manhattan outlining his 2019 agenda.
“The fact is we have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and the well off, and one for everyone else,” Cuomo said, noting that arrests for the use of recreational marijuana have “for too long targeted the African-American and minority communities.”
According to an an analysis conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union, 88 percent of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010 “were for simply having marijuana.” The arrests also reveal a significant racial bias: African Americans are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana despite “roughly equal usage.” In Iowa, Washington D.C., and Illinois, African Americans were “7.5 times to 8.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for having weed.”
In fact, the ACLU estimates that in 2010, police officers “made one pot bust every 37 seconds.”
Cuomo’s announcement follows a report issued in July by a New York State Department of Health commission which concluded that the benefit of regulating and taxing marijuana would be far more beneficial to the state than any potential negative outcomes. The report said that marijuana sales would not only be a boon for state tax revenue, but could also help remedy the opioid epidemic and tackle the matter of racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Cuomo has made a markedly more progressive shift than this time last year, when he referred to marijuana as “a gateway drug.” This year, he stated that “the facts have changed,” citing successful examples of legalization in other states.
Ten states and the District of Columbia now have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use. Most recently, Michigan voters approved “Proposal 1,” which legalizes, regulates, and taxes marijuana in the state, by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana for adult use without a ballot initiative; its new law went into effect on July 1, 2018.
In 2018, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Wisconsin and West Virginia all considered legislative measures which would have legalized marijuana.
Additionally, 22 states (including Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware and Nebraska) and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, which, according to The National Conference of State Legislatures, “generally means certain small, personal-consumption amounts are a civil or local infraction, not a state crime (or are a lowest misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time).”
A majority of New Yorkers (63 percent) support legalizing marijuana, according to a May Quinnipiac University poll.
In another sign that has priorities have shifted further leftward, Cuomo’s announcement came alongside more than a dozen major policy initiatives, including banning gun “bump stocks,” simplifying voter registration and making Election Day a state holiday, and ending cash bail.