I have been saying for years that New York is on the verge of legalizing marijuana.
And every time, the state proves me wrong.
The last big push to legalize weed, in 2019, collapsed in a sea of bickering over logistics, indifference from top officials such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and pushback from well-organized and disciplined opponents.
Given this tumultuous recent history, I’m a bit hesitant to declare 2021 the year New York legalizes marijuana.
But I’m going to do it anyway, because I really think it’s going to happen.
One of the big Election Day winners was drugs, and not just in liberal blue states that have typically been more open to legalizing pot.
Tuesday saw Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota all vote to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. South Dakota also voted to legalize medical marijuana, as did Mississippi.
These election results bring the total number of states that have legalized recreational cannabis to 15, and it’s a diverse group that includes states from a variety of political and geographic persuasions. New Jersey and South Dakota don’t have a lot in common, but both have decided it’s time for a new, less punitive approach to a drug that a majority of Americans have tried at some point in their lives.
It’s clear that legalizing drugs is popular with voters, and that the list of states where weed is legal is only going to grow.
The question is: When will New York join it?
In an interview with WAMC’s Alan Chartock last week. Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered some clues, saying, “I think this year it is ripe [for marijuana legalization] because the state is going to be desperate for funding, even with Biden, even with the stimulus. Even with everything else, we’re still going to need funding, and it’s also the right policy. So I think we get there this year.”
It’s always a little difficult to tell how sincere the governor is being when it comes to marijuana.
He was calling it a gateway drug as recently as 2017, but by 2018 had changed his tune and was calling for legalization. Since then, the depth of his support has been difficult to gauge, but I’ve always believed that if the governor was really invested in legalizing marijuana, he would have gotten a deal done in 2019.
That said, things have changed.
The state is desperate for new revenue, and while I’d caution against overhyping marijuana as a revenue source, the state’s budget deficit might be enough to push legalization closer to the top of Cuomo’s priority list.
There’s also geography to consider.
New Jersey is just the latest neighboring state to legalize marijuana, joining Connecticut and Massachusetts as places New Yorkers can easily drive to to buy weed.
Last year, The Daily Gazette’s John Cropley wrote about a marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts whose biggest source of customers were Capital Region residents. At some point, keeping weed illegal becomes absurd, and with New Jersey moving forward with legalization, it’s possible we’ve reached that point.
There’s a strong practical case for legalizing marijuana in New York — and an even stronger moral one.
The War on Drugs has been raging for decades, but it hasn’t been successful.
Millions of Americans use marijuana every single day, and will continue to do so.
Rather than funnel those who get caught into the criminal justice system, we should approach substance use as a public health issue, and build sensible rules and regulations around its usage. Other states have provided a template for how to do this.
It’s time for New York to follow them.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.