Foss: Will New York legalize marijuana this year?


Earlier this year, I predicted that New York would legalize marijuana in 2020. 

It was just a feeling I had, more of an intuition than something rooted in fact. 

My sense was that the Democratic-controlled Legislature would be eager to work out an agreement to legalize recreational pot after last year’s effort ended in failure, and that this newfound resolve would yield results. 

It still could, of course. 

But my gut tells me that it’s going to be just as difficult as last year, and all know how that turned out. 

I’ve long supported marijuana legalization, and a recent poll from the Siena College Research Institute suggests that a majority of New Yorkers do, too. 

Popular support doesn’t always translate to legislative success, though. 

Legalizing marijuana requires overcoming an emboldened and powerful opposition that includes doctors, educators and law enforcement officials. At times, proponents have struggled to counter perfectly legitimate questions concerning the long-term consequences of legalizing marijuana. 

One such question is whether legalization will lead to an increase in drugged driving. 

A new study, released late last month by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that the share of Washington drivers who, after a fatal crash, tested positive for active THC – marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient – has more than doubled since 2012, when the state legalized pot. 

According to the study, between 2008 and 2012 an estimated 8.8 percent of Washington drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for THC. Between 2013 and 2017, the rate rose to 18 percent. 

This a troubling finding – one I expect we’ll hear more about as legislative battles over legalizing pot start to heat up. 

At the very least, it suggests that proponents would do well to be proactive, and include funding for extensive public awareness and education campaigns in their legalization bills. Drivers need to better understand the risks of driving while high, and the state needs to be prepared to aggressively crackdown on people who drive stoned. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s marijuana bill would boost field sobriety testing focused on pot, but data showing a rise in drugged driving in states that have legalized marijuana suggests that even more is needed. 

Another hurdle the legalization effort must clear is the rise in health problems related to vaping marijuana. 

Proponents argue that black market THC products are to blame for the surge in vaping-related illnesses; create a safe, regulated market for these products, and the problem will get better, not worse. 

This is an argument that I find persuasive, but whether it will win over skeptics remains to be seen. My sense, though, is that it won’t – that opponents just don’t see the benefits of a regulated market outweighing the costs of legalization. 

The Wall Street Journal has blamed marijuana legalization for vaping-related lung injuries, and I expect to hear legalization opponents make the same argument to state legislators. 

Finally, this year’s legalization push could collapse for the same reasons it fell apart last year, over fundamental disagreements as to how legalization will work in practice. Still unresolved is how to spend the tax revenue from legal marijuana sales. 

Nobody ever said legalizing marijuana was going to be easy. 

But it’s proving much harder than I thought it would be. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Opinion

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