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Foss: How should the state spend marijuana revenue?

Foss: How should the state spend marijuana revenue?

Foss: How should the state spend marijuana revenue?
If marijuana is legalized, New York could spend some tax revenue on infrastructure repairs.
Photographer: Gazette file photo by Peter R. Barber

Smoke a joint, save the subway? 

That's the headline on a news article detailing how the revenue generated from recreational marijuana might be used in New York. 

Now, don't get too excited -- recreational marijuana remains very much illegal in New York. 

But the Cuomo administration appears to be laying the groundwork for legalizing the drug, and there's a chance New York will legalize recreational marijuana, as Massachusetts, Vermont and eight other states already have, as soon as next year. 

Which means it isn't too early to consider how we want the revenue from recreational marijuana sales to be used. 

I have no objection to directing marijuana revenue to New York City's broken subway system, which needs an estimated $40 billion in repairs and upgrades. 

What I object to is the notion that all of the revenue should go downstate. 

If New York legalizes marijuana, the entire state should benefit from the millions of dollars that will go to state coffers.

According to a state Department of Health report from June, legalizing recreational marijuana could generate up to $670 million in annual tax revenue. 

That's a lot of money, and there are plenty of good uses for it, such as:  

  • Fixing pipes -- New York's water infrastructure is antiquated, leading to costly pipe breaks, leaking sewage and other threats to health and safety, as Capital Region residents are well aware.

The non-profit organization Environmental Advocates estimates that New York needs to spend $80 billion, over the next 20 years, to fix the state's wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. 

We're always told that there isn't enough money to fix all the pipes that need to be fixed. An infusion of new revenue, from pot sales, could change this. 

  • Road and bridge repairs -- The state's infrastructure is in poor shape. 

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our roads a D- and our bridges a D+. In the Capital Region, this neglect is tangible -- we notice it when we hit a pothole, or strain to see faded lane markings. 

Why not dedicate some of the marijuana revenue to road repairs? Better yet, why don't we pair the repairs with investments in mass transit -- in bus systems and bicycle lanes, among other things? 

  • Affordable housing -- Homelessness in New York is on the rise, a discouraging trend that's reflected in the growing number of homeless students in our schools. This lack of stability causes stress, makes learning difficult and robs children of a decent quality of life. 

One way to address homelessness is by building affordable housing in places where rents are rising and lower-income people are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. 

Why not use marijuana revenue to help put a roof over the heads of people who need one, and reduce evictions and the need for shelter beds in our communities? 

Those are just a few ideas on how to spend the marijuana revenue we can expect to come to the state. 

It's by no means exhaustive, and I'd be interested to hear your ideas, so feel free to email me. 

As I wrote earlier, I have no objection to diverting some of the marijuana revenue to New York City's subway system. 

But upstate New York has needs, too. 

We need to make sure we get our fair share of pot money, and that it's spent wisely and well. 

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

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