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New York Health Department Announces Support of Cannabis Legalization

New Yorkers are in favor of legalizing and regulating cannabis for adult use. Now, the state has the data that shows why they should.

Adam Drury

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The Anatomy of a Marijuana Plant
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Back in January, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he was commissioning a State Health Department study on the impact of marijuana legalization. And on Monday, the Health Department released their final assessment.

In its findings, the report substantiates a broad range of social, economic and health benefits of cannabis legalization and a regulated adult-use market. All told, the New York Health Department’s assessment makes a strong case for legalization in the state and should have a major impact on drug policy going forward.

New York Health Dept. Builds Compelling Case for Legalization

When Gov. Cuomo tasked the State Health Department with studying legal marijuana in New York, he asked for officials to focus on a few key areas.

In addition to evaluating health, public safety and the economic impact of legal cannabis, Cuomo was especially interested in how legalization in Massachusetts and Vermont would affect New York, and what the state could learn from its neighbors’ experiences.

The Health Department’s assessment of the impact of legal weed breaks the issue down into those key areas. It presents strong evidence of the benefits of legalizing and regulating cannabis. Yet it also indicates how negative impacts can be mitigated.

Ultimately, the assessment concludes that “the positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts.” And further, that “areas that may be cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education” that prioritizes at-risk populations.

Here’s What The Health Department Found

The report provides data about how legal cannabis impacts health. Among other benefits, it found that marijuana may reduce deaths from opioids and reduce opioid prescriptions. It also shows how regulating marijuana can help rid New York of its dangerous synthetic cannabis problem.

In terms of the social benefits of cannabis, the assessment also supports Cynthia Nixon’s arguments that legalizing marijuana is an indispensable first step toward ending disproportionate incarceration and criminalization of racial and ethnic minority groups in New York.

Legalizing weed will also boost New York’s economy, the assessment found. Creating jobs, generating long-term cost savings, and driving substantial revenue through taxation.

Finally, the Health Department addressed Cuomo’s concerns about legalization in neighboring states. The assessment found that consumers are likely to cross state lines to obtain legal weed. If they do, they’ve committed a felony. Further, the report cited an uptick in possession arrests in counties on the border with legal-weed states.

So in addition to increased criminalization on state borders, failing to follow the regional trend toward legalization could result in revenue flowing out of New York and into markets in other states.

Progressive Candidates Are Pushing New York Toward Legal Marijuana

A majority of New Yorkers support legal, regulated marijuana for adults. Yet Gov. Cuomo doesn’t have a strong record of supporting drug policy reform.

But now that the two-term incumbent is facing a progressive challenger who has foregrounded marijuana legalization as part of her campaign for a more equitable New York, it’s no surprise Cuomo is changing his tune to be more in tune with voters.

During his tenure as governor, Cuomo has taken incremental steps toward marijuana reform. He tried and failed, in 2012, then tried again, in 2017, to decriminalize cannabis possession.

And despite signing a restrictive Compassionate Care Act into law in 2014, Cuomo’s Department of Health has taken major steps to improve access to the medical marijuana program.

Then, there was Cuomo’s announcement in January 2018—right as his Democratic challenger Cynthia Nixon was surging in popularity—that he was commissioning a study on legalizing cannabis.

That investigation has concluded by overwhelmingly supporting adult-use cannabis in New York.

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