New York

New York's Department of Health Recommends Legalizing Marijuana

The positives of legalizing weed would outweigh the negatives, a study found.


Stanimir Stoev/

New York's Department of Health (DOH) has recommended that the state legalize marijuana for recreational use.

In a 74-page report commissioned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and published Friday, health officials insisted that the "positive effects of a regulated marijuana market" would "outweigh the potential negative impacts." Though the study cited many reasons, the two biggest ones had to do with the potential economic benefits and the effect legalization would have on the criminal justice system.

The report noted that New York could collect up to $677.7 million a year in state and local tax revenue if the state legislature legalized weed for recreational use by adults over the age of 21. Moreover, legalization would create jobs in the marijuana industry and reduce a variety of "costs associated with illegal marijuana, including police time, court costs, prison costs and administrative fees," the study said.

Legalization would also benefit a lot of people—particularly ethic and racial minorities—who've been penalized by the criminal justice system for a minor marijuana infraction. In 2017, 86 percent of people busted for "marijuana possession in the fifth degree" in New York were "people of color," while just 9 percent were white, the report said. Thus, legalization would reduce the "disproportionate criminalization and incarceration" of those groups. Health officials also recommended that the state "expunge the criminal records of individuals with marijuana-related offenses."

The study posited that smoking marijuana comes with mental and physical health risks, but suggested that legalization won't lead to an onslaught of new users. That assertion fits with data from Colorado, where legal marijuana went on sale for adults in 2014. Since then, adolescent weed use has actually dropped to its lowest rate in almost a decade.

Now, it's up to Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state's Democrat-led legislature to decide if they want to move forward with legalization. As the Associated Press reported, Cuomo has previously been wary of supporting legalization, but with far-left actress Cynthia Nixon challenging him in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, he's "softened his stance." In January, Cuomo asked the DOH to study the issue.