As 2020 gets up to full speed, it would appear the New Year has heralded a new approach from New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who has shed light on his view of cannabis legalisation in a recent public speech.
The divisive governor discussed how 2020 will be a “challenging year” while stating that the legalisation of cannabis could bring in $300 million in new tax revenue.
He suggested that much of the revenue will be spent in the same way as Chicago by helping families and communities that have been affected by “decade-long criminalisation of marijuana”.
New York state is the fourth most populated state in the United States with more than 19 million people and 8.6 million people in New York City, making it potentially a high-profit region.
Cuomo also wants to create new safety and quality controls to ensure hemp and CBD products are better regulated, which has been a key topic across the state due to mislabelling and misinformation being spread by producers.
Furthermore, he noted that the aim is to create a SUNY Global Cannabis Centre to research and determine healthy doses of cannabis before a new legislation is put in place.
“For decades, communities of colour were disproportionately affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws,” Mr Cuomo stated in his annual State of the State address, according to a transcript of the speech released by his office.
“Last year we righted that injustice when we decriminalised possession.
“This year let’s work with our neighbours New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, to coordinate a safe and fair system and let’s legalise adult use of marijuana.”
However, the recent subject of lung injuries due to vaping could put a dent in the attempt to bring the legalisation of cannabis to New York, with many critics and anti-cannabis groups claiming that the vape illnesses are of much higher importance than the potential profits to be gained and that the issues further reinforce the risks of cannabis, in particular cannabis use amongst young adults.
After the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention stated that vitamin E acetate, a cutting agent utilised in cannabis vape cartridges, could have been partially responsible for the recent vaping injuries, Mr Cuomo had no choice but to address concerns, claiming that New York had “led the way” with a ban on problematic flavoured vaping as well as restricting the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes.
Addressing the subject in his recent speech, Cuomo said: “After all the millions of lives lost, big tobacco has come back to life in a different wrapper. They are now in vaping products. We know well the danger of nicotine addiction and we don’t yet know the dangers of vaping, but young Americans are dying to find out.”
Despite the worries over harmful products entering the cannabis market, with public figures scrambling to put bans in place to ensure public health is prioritised, another topic has lawmakers frantically searching for new ways to generate profit, and that is New York states’ mounting budget gap.
Due to the extortionate rising cost of Medicaid, New York state has found itself beginning 2020 with a $6.1 billion deficit in its budget, despite having stable tax revenue income and a strong economy.
Medicaid is a federal program which provides coverage for people with limited income dealing with the cost of medical treatment in the US, in which the state pays for around half of the costs amassed by the program.
More than six million people in New York are now receiving Medicaid, which makes the program a costly $70 billion scheme, just in this state. The high amount of citizens enrolled in the program means that New York’s uninsured rate has recently reached the lowest point ever recorded, with around 4.7 percent remaining uninsured.
Although widespread medical access is an extremely beneficial situation for the people of New York, the budget gap could continue to grow if nothing is done about it, potentially nearing levels last seen in 2010 when, following an economic crash, a $10 billion hole in the deficit was finally closed after painstaking cuts were made to health care, education and private sectors.
Cuomo has been vocal on his long-held belief of opposing raising taxes for wealthy New Yorkers, citing the prospective fleeing that would happen as a result with high-income individuals seeking to relocate to low-tax areas. Cuomo stated last year: “I don’t believe raising taxes on the rich. That would be the worst thing to do,” before adding: “God forbid if the rich leave.”
Due to the common perception that democrats may lose their majority in the state if taxes were to be imposed on the rich, other options must be considered to address the revenue deficit, and cannabis taxation appears to be a hot topic in which the predicted profit gain generated could ease the burden.
Following Chicago’s lead
Cuomo’s somewhat surprising stance on cannabis comes just days after the state of Illinois legalised cannabis for recreational use, with dispensaries in Chicago selling out within hours and huge amounts of profits were generated in one day amounting to around $3.2 million in legal sales.
Illinois’ legalisation also resulted in around 800,000 people with criminal records related to small-scale cannabis possession eventually having their records expunged, which is a topic that many in the black community who have experienced the inequality of cannabis prosecutions rightfully deem a high priority.
Despite New York decriminalising cannabis last year, which aimed to provide those who had suffered under the strict consequences of cannabis laws and received “draconian penalties”, many in the state remain unsatisfied with the measures put forward as part of Cuomo’s decriminalisation plan.
Speaking on the recent decriminalisation efforts, Deputy Director of the New York Drug Policy Alliance, Melissa Moore stated: “This bill fails to address the collateral damages of prohibition, including affected individuals’ access to employment and housing, as well as address family separations, immigration rights, and other avenues to economic security.
“Given the extensive, life-changing inequities created by discriminatory and draconian enforcement policies, true justice requires the allocation of tax revenue to community reinvestment programs for impacted communities.”
Following in Chicago’s lead would allow for New York citizens unfairly discriminated by the harsh cannabis-related criminal reprimands to rebuild their lives without the stigma of past convictions that are now encouraged and profited from in surrounding states.