Cuomo’s half-baked mar­i­juana or­der

New York Daily News - - EDITORIAL - BY MOR­GAN PEHME Pehme is the ed­i­tor-in-chief of City & State magazine.

Gov. Cuomo’s an­nounce­ment in his State of the State speech that he would or­der 20 New York hos­pi­tals to be­gin pre­scrib­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana for se­ri­ous ill­nesses has been hailed as part of the na­tional move­ment to­ward saner treat­ment of the drug — but it’s the ba­bi­est of baby steps.

In fact, it’s so un­der­whelm­ing that those of us who be­lieve in mar­i­juana lib­er­al­iza­tion ought to be ac­tively ir­ri­tated by Cuomo’s cal­cu­lated cau­tious­ness.

Yes, the gover­nor is by­pass­ing the Leg­is­la­ture to use his ex­ec­u­tive author­ity un­der an old law to fi­nally get New York up to speed with the 20 other states that have le­gal­ized med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

That’s fol­low­ing, not lead­ing. Ac­cord­ing to a Siena poll taken in May, 82% of New York­ers ap­prove of med­i­cal mar­i­juana, which in po­lit­i­cal terms trans­lates to a no-brainer.

Cuomo had an ideal op­por­tu­nity to ex­hibit po­lit­i­cal courage the likes of which he showed on mar­riage equal­ity two years ago. Last month, State Sen. Liz Krueger of Man­hat­tan in­tro­duced a bill that would le­gal­ize, reg­u­late and tax mar­i­juana for recre­ational pur­poses — like Colorado and Wash­ing­ton have done.

Cuomo brushed off the bill as a “non-starter.”

While it is not dif­fi­cult to dis­cern why the gover­nor, a very po­lit­i­cal crea­ture, is steer­ing clear of full-fledged le­gal­iza­tion, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing an elec­tion year, his stance con­tra­dicts his own aims in of­fice.

Le­gal­iza­tion is no longer a fringe po­si­tion. A CNN/ORC In­ter­na­tional poll taken this week found that 55% of Amer­i­cans sup­port le­gal­iza­tion with “se­nior cit­i­zens, Repub­li­cans and South­ern­ers the only ma­jor de­mo­graphic groups” still against it.

This shift in pub­lic opin­ion is in part a re­ac­tion to the in­jus­tices of our county’s failed and ir­ra­tional pol­icy of pro­hi­bi­tion. In 2010 alone, the NYPD ar­rested over 50,000 peo­ple on charges of pos­ses­sion, brand­ing oth­er­wise lawabid­ing peo­ple as crim­i­nals, swelling our court and prison sys­tems with non-vi­o­lent of­fend­ers and creat­ing need­less an­tipa­thy be- tween the pub­lic and the po­lice.

These peo­ple, by the way, were over­whelm­ingly not white.

Krueger’s bill would es­sen­tially treat mar­i­juana like al­co­hol, re­strict­ing pur­chase to adults over the age of 21, and im­pos­ing a tax of $50 per ounce on its sale. It ac­knowl­edges the re­al­ity of how wide­spread the us­age of mar­i­juana is in the United States — 40% of Amer­i­cans ad­mit­ted to in­gest­ing it within the last three years, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Pew Re­search sur­vey — and would re­di­rect some of the mas­sive prof­its from its sale to the com­mon good, rather than the en­rich­ment of drug deal­ers.

Based on a re­cent es­ti­mate by the city con­troller’s of­fice, the cur­rent statewide mar­i­juana mar­ket could be as large as a $3 bil­lion in­dus­try. New York City’s $1.65 bil­lion an­nual pot mar­ket alone could gen­er­ate around $400 mil­lion for the state if it were le­gal­ized and taxed.

And that stag­ger­ing sum — enough, for ex­am­ple, to halve tu­ition for all of CUNY’s stu­dents — doesn’t even fac­tor in an­cil­lary eco­nomic benefits, like jobs cre­ated by the in-state cul­ti­va­tion of mar­i­juana that could boost the state’s ail­ing agri­cul­ture busi­ness and even draw new tourism.

Which brings us back to Cuomo, who ad­mits to hav­ing ex­per­i­mented with mar­i­juana as a “youth.” He has been an en­thu­si­as­tic pro­po­nent of New York's wine and beer mak­ers, while ram­ming through the le­gal­iza­tion of gam­bling — so clearly he has no aver­sion to the state prof­it­ing from peo­ple’s so-called vices.

At the same time, he has been des­per­ate to help up­state New York’s eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed ru­ral re­gions — the very ar­eas that could greatly ben­e­fit from grow­ing mar­i­juana for a down­state con­sumer base.

In one fell swoop, Cuomo could put drug deal­ers out of busi­ness, cre­ate much-needed jobs up­state, reap hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in new rev­enue and right one of our society’s non­sen­si­cal in­jus­tices. Why won’t he?

A baby step, when real re­form would help thou­sands

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