Pubdate: Fri, 10 Jan 2014
Source: New York Daily News (NY)
Copyright: 2014 Daily News, L.P.
Author: Morgan Pehme
Note: Pehme is the editor-in-chief of City & State magazine.


A Baby Step, When Real Reform Would Help Thousands

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 between 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?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom