A new study commissioned by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recommends that the state legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker announced on Monday. Zucker said that his department researched the pros and cons of legalization and "realized that the pros outweigh the cons and the report recommends that a regulated, legal marijuana program be available to adults in the state of New York."
Gov. Cuomo commissioned the Department of Health to conduct this study in January, as he began to realize that cannabis legalization was an inevitable choice for the Empire State. Cuomo used to be fully opposed to legalization, clinging to the tired "gateway drug" myth popular amongst his generation. But after several of his opponents in the upcoming gubernatorial election announced their support for legalization, the incumbent governor finally began to see the light.
With bipartisan support for legalization growing, and legal cannabis coming to neighboring Massachusetts and eventually New Jersey, Cuomo and other opponents of cannabis reform have begun to change their stances. This April, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James came out in favor of legal weed, and said that she was working with the governor to realize this goal. Last month, the state's Democratic party officially endorsed legalization.
According to the New York Times, Zucker said that his department consulted with "experts from all across the government," including economic, public safety, and health officials. The report considers several important factors, including impaired driving, minimum age of use, and the regulations concerning statewide production and distribution. "We have new facts, we have new data, and as a result of that, we made a decision to move forward," Zucker said to Marijuana Moment. "So that is the decision at this point: to have a regulated legal marijuana program for adults."
Although the report increases the likelihood that New York will join the other nine states that have legalized recreational cannabis, it is extremely unlikely that it will happen this year. "With only two days left in the legislative session, our focus is on issues related to affordability, opportunity, and security," state Senate Republican spokesperson Scott Reif said to the Times Union. "We will take a look at the report whenever it's made available to the public, but our focus is on helping the people who really need it," Reif added, referring to the Senate's recent approval of a bill expanding the state's medical cannabis program to include patients using prescription opioids.
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, one of the sponsors of a recreational legalization bill that has been proposed in both chambers of the state legislature, feels that it is also unlikely that the Assembly has time to pass the bill this year. "To do an eight-to-nine hour debate, first in conference then on the floor — I'm not counting on that happening," she said to the Times Union. "But if it does, I can tell you that I'll be ready."
When the bill does eventually come up for debate, Peoples-Stokes believes that the Democratic-majority Assembly will have no qualms about passing it. The traditionally conservative state Senate may be another story altogether, though. State Senator George Amedore, who supported the recent bill expanding the state's medical cannabis program, still believes that cannabis is a gateway drug, as do many of his conservative colleagues. Democrats are only one seat away from having a majority in the state Senate, however, so this year's midterm elections may tip the scale in favor of legal weed.