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New York’s Andrew Cuomo Wants Marijuana Legalization for All The Wrong Reasons

New York Wants to End Prohibition for All The Wrong Reasons
PHOTO Paul L

Joint Opinions

New York’s Andrew Cuomo Wants Marijuana Legalization for All The Wrong Reasons

Rather than challenge powerful interests or make risky political decisions, mainstream centrists are embracing marijuana legalization — a proven winner among voters — as a handy budget fix rather than a sound policy decision.

Twenty-four million people live in and around New York City, the U.S.’s most populous urban area and the linchpin of economic and cultural life for most of the country. The engine that keeps all this moving is the city’s subway system, much of which is running on century-old infrastructure. And, thanks to decades of underinvestment and “curious” political decisions, that infrastructure is now in dire need of both a million small fixes and a general upgrade.

What does this have to do with marijuana legalization? Nothing at all, except marijuana legalization gives New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on whose watch subway service has become noticeably and steadily worse, an easy financial out for covering those extensive repairs. But at what cost?

On Tuesday, Gov. Cuomo’s office announced preparations to legalize marijuana as early as next year. This move would give the governor, who is said to harbor presidential ambitions, a handy new stream of revenue that is also a popular policy. Cuomo could thus stand to reap political dividends without having to make truly difficult political choices, like doing something that might upset Republican lawmakers or big-business interests, both of whom Cuomo has openly courted, and both of whom he’ll need on his side if he’s serious about running for president in 2020.

New York has been crying out for a significant change in marijuana policy for a long time. The state has medical marijuana, but under restrictions so comically heavy they are unworkable. Thanks to pronouncements from district attorneys in Brooklyn and Manhattan as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City is no longer the capital of petty marijuana busts in America, but it’s significant that de Blasio had to be shamed into action by the Drug Policy Alliance before anything happened.

Cuomo is not alone among centrist Democrats in viewing marijuana legalization as a popular alternative to difficult choices — that is, he is not alone in viewing marijuana legalization as a handy ATM rather than the antidote to decades of patently harmful and costly prohibition. In fact, touting legalization as a cash machine rather than both just and sound policy is now squarely in the mainstream Democrats’ playbooks, which means doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is now official policy.

In Chicago, outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel is reportedly cooking up a plan to legalize marijuana that would divert most of the tax money from legal sales to covering the $27 billion debt Chicago owes retired workers and is currently unable to pay them. And here’s Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was so obviously hedging his bets on weed that he did everything he could to discourage legalization when voters passed it in 2012, now riding high off the notion that Colorado, where more than $1 billion worth of marijuana is sold every year, is doing things the right way.

Does it matter that money rather than social justice or even common sense is motivating mainstream politicians to legalize marijuana, which every poll indicates enjoyed broad popular support like, years ago?

Maybe not. Maybe it is the ends and not the means that matter here, and maybe finally achieving legalization is the only thing that matters. But it’s important to realize this is a devil’s bargain and is unlikely to be overly friendly to the typical cannabis user, who has every reason to expect high taxes and stiff restrictions, and every reason to resent being looked at as a golden goose.

Ask yourself this: What happens when there’s legal weed in New York City, but it’s taxed so heavily that you’re driven back to the black market, there’s no amnesty for people convicted of marijuana-related crimes and the subway still sucks? By then, it might not matter to the political big shots: Cuomo may be safely out of office. Actions matter, and so do intentions.

TELL US, do you think marijuana legalization should fund government projects?

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. tucaronick silfa

    December 21, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    No……the $ should be used for education, we are after all #17 on the who is smart list….. the train system has plenty of money in the bank accounts of the administers of transportation…..this should not even be a question, even less a request, from ppl who degreted us, calling us all sorts of bulls it….. NO! get the stolen money, (ive been told they have a whole wharehouse full of money..) that does not justify their work as of yet……please invite me to the next meeting, please,,,,,,

  2. Sara Gluck

    December 17, 2018 at 9:34 am

    Do I think cannabis legalization should fund government projects? Yes. Should it be the sole funding of such projects? No.

    I think a lot of people don’t realize that cannabis tax revenues are a small line item for states. When it comes to the subway, cannabis may be a band aid. A temporary relief. Maybe there’ll be some improvements, or there’ll be a clean up, or the wi-fi will be faster. But it won’t fix the system at all.

    The MTA wants $37 billion to fix the subway and that money surely isn’t coming from cannabis tax revenues.

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