The New York Department of Health last week backed legalizing marijuana for recreational use in a report to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who in the past opposed the policy change but now appears to be moving closer to supporting it.
The 75-page report ultimately concluded that the pros outweigh the cons for legalization. “Numerous [New York state] agencies and subject matter experts in the fields of public health, mental health, substance use, public safety, transportation, and economics worked in developing this assessment,” the report said. “No insurmountable obstacles to regulation of marijuana were raised.”
The report reached several significant conclusions:
- Criminalization “has not curbed marijuana use despite the commitment of significant law enforcement resources.”
- New York state’s hundreds of thousands of marijuana-related arrests and prosecutions over the past two decades “have disproportionately affected low-income communities of color” even though these communities aren’t significantly more likely to use pot — backing similar findings from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Sentencing Project.
- Legalization would let the state “better control licensing, ensure quality control and consumer protection, and set age and quantity restrictions.”
- It would also provide tax revenue to the state, estimated at $248.1 million to $677.7 million in the first year. The extra money could help support various state programs, from education to health care.
- Legalization does not appear to, so far, lead to a significant increase in marijuana use in the states that have adopted the policy. But regulators should keep an eye on potential trends, the report said: “A regulated marijuana program should monitor and document patterns of use to evaluate the impact of legalization on use.”
- Marijuana may reduce opioid overdose deaths. This finding references earlier research that suggests states with medical marijuana have fewer opioid overdose deaths, although some experts caution that the studies still aren’t very strong and there are more proven evidence-based policy solutions for fighting the opioid epidemic.
- There are some risks to marijuana, including addiction, potential mental health problems, and car crashes involving drugs. Many of these risks were documented in a comprehensive report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Cuomo announced the state legalization study in January. He’s been under pressure to support legalization in part due to Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign, which has repeatedly attacked Cuomo from the left — including through its support for legalization.
It’s unclear if the report will be enough to sway Cuomo.
But some states neighboring New York already have taken the plunge. Massachusetts legalized marijuana possession and sales through a ballot initiative in 2016. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed a law earlier this year legalizing marijuana possession, but not sales, in the state. And New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is publicly pushing for fully legalizing pot.
Marijuana is already legal for medical purposes in New York.
In total, nine states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana at varying levels.
The New York report comes in the middle of a very big year for marijuana legalization, from Canada legalizing pot to California opening the world’s largest cannabis market. If New York followed suit, it could become the world’s third-largest marijuana market after California and Canada.
For more on marijuana legalization, read Vox’s explainer.