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Legalizing weed is the right move for New York, the state’s health department says

Legalizing weed is the right move for New York, the state’s health department says


‘It has become less a question of whether to legalize but how to do so responsibly.’

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Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The state of New York is weighing whether it should legalize marijuana — and a new report comes down hard in favor of the move, Bloomberg reports.

Governor Andrew Cuomo asked for the report in January 2018, and today the New York State Department of Health sent the “Regulated Marijuana Report” to the governor’s office. As part of the study, New York State agencies and experts examined the peer-reviewed literature about pot, public health, public safety — and, of course, the public pocketbook. They also investigated how other states that have legalized weed have fared. The results, released today, are a persuasive argument in favor of legalization: “It has become less a question of whether to legalize but how to do so responsibly,” the report says.

“One in 10 New Yorkers used marijuana in the last month.”

It’d certainly be a popular move, since “one in 10 New Yorkers used marijuana in the last month,” the report says. And it could mean gains for public health: for one thing, regulating weed sales could cut down on contaminants like “fungi spores, mold, bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides, and growth enhancers,” the report says.

It could also help fight the opioid epidemic, the report says. After all, medical cannabis can be prescribed for pain-relief — and legalizing weed would mean more people have access to it, the report says. Swapping out opioids for pot “greatly reduces the chance of dependence, and eliminates the risk of fatal overdose compared to opioid-based medications,” the report says, citing studies that show fewer deaths related to opioids in states that permit medical cannabis.

Of course, there are risks associated with cannabis, which the report acknowledges. Using it while pregnant, for example, has been linked to babies with lower birthweights. The smoke could be bad for lungs. Cannabis use might exacerbate psychotic disorders in those who are susceptible to them, the report says. And what if people drive stoned?

Regulation could help reduce a lot of the risks

Regulation could help reduce a lot of the risks, according to the report — which has a few recommendations. Those include banning sales to people under 21 years old, cracking down on the illegal market, studying what cannabis use means for driving, and making sure that pot farms and dispensaries are secure. Overall, the study says, “The negative health consequences of marijuana have been found to be lower than those associated with alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs including heroin and cocaine.”

But wouldn’t legalizing marijuana lead to a state full of stoners? Not really, the report says. Some states that legalized weed did see a small spike in pot use initially, but it leveled out. Plus, if weed’s legal and easier to get, people might be less likely to use dangerous synthetic cannabinoids that can cause seizures, comas, and even death depending on what the drugs are mixed with.

And legalizing weed would mean that fewer people of color end up in jail and with criminal records, the report says. Even though different racial groups use roughly the same amount of weed, black people are four times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people are, the report says, citing previous studies. So if New York does legalize weed, the program should “address collateral consequences of prior criminal convictions for marijuana possession, such as barriers to housing and education,” the report says.

In the end, legalizing pot could be good for New York State’s bottom line because the state could rake in the tax revenue. The report’s authors estimate that people buy between 6.5 and 10.2 million ounces of weed illegally in New York State every year. If you estimate that it costs between $270 to $340 per ounce, that adds up to a $1.7 to $3.5 billion-dollar market. With taxes, anywhere between $173.3 million to $542.3 million of that could end up in state coffers, the report says.

Here’s the kicker that the report authors slipped in: if New York doesn’t legalize pot, but New Jersey does, all that dough will end up fueling New Jersey’s economy. What New Yorker would want that?