Cuomo’s half-baked marijuana order
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