Is legal pot coming to New York? A not-yet-released study will support it, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who used tocall marijuana a “gateway drug,” also seems on board — does anyone think the health study’s impending results would be tipped if not?
When? How? Those are questions that have less clarity than the sure bet that recreational pot, for adults, will be allowable in some forms. Every state does it a bit differently — Vermont, for example, doesn’t even have a taxing system set up, something New York surely won’t forget todo.
The public seems to support it: A Quinnipiac University poll released May 3 showed that New Yorkers support allowing adults to possess a small amount of marijuana for personal use by nearly 2:1 at 63 percent for and 32 percent against.
New York’s borders are surrounded by places that either have legalized marijuana, will soon have it, or are close to passing legalization that will allow it.
That’s seen as a big motivator for New York. “It’s not really ‘legalize or not.’ It’s, ‘do you not legalize when it is legal 10 miles from both sides of your border,'” Cuomo told Politico New York in April.
Then there’s the money: Zucker has said that his panel’s study focused on the possible tax revenue, as well as public safety and distribution aspects.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a study to look at the pros and cons of legalizing recreational marijuana in New York. Cuomo’s proposal was part of his state budget address on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Jon Campbell / Albany Bureau
Of course, political pressure counts too: Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo for the Democratic ticket, has advocated for legalization as a racial justice issue. “… we have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity,” Nixon said in a video in April.
Here’s where neighboring states stand:
- New Jersey’s legislation to legalize recreational marijuana stalled, but legislators could revisit the issue over the summer.
- Massachusetts approved pot sales to start July 1, but licensing is running behind.
- Vermont makes pot legal on July 1, with no formal regulatory or tax system; adults will be allowed to possess an ounce of marijuana, two mature plants and four immature plants.
- Connecticut’s legislative session ended in May without a vote on recreational marijuana, but a bill appears positioned for action when the 2019 session starts.
- Canada’s Parliament recently voted to allow recreational use of marijuana purchased from approved retailers. But the provinces and territories will likely need months to institute rules.
- While legislation hasn’t made it far in Pennsylvania, key officials have called recreational marijuana “inevitable,” citing New Jersey and New York’s likely legalization. State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has advocated for legalization, citing the potential revenue stream.
In May, the Daily News reported that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was planning a task force to study how the city will handle everything from smoking in public to zoning for dispensaries should the state approve legalization.
The state Legislature would have to act, which is more likely if Democrats take over the Senate. According to that Quinnipiac study, New York Republicans opposed legalizing pot by 56 percent to 40 percent.
Adding tax revenue isa big issue in New York. The medical marijuana system was expected to bring in a lot more revenue; many blamed the program’s restrictive uses and an onerous registration process for both medical providers and patients.
NY treatment for opioids
Meanwhile, the state’s medical marijuana program continues to change. The state Legislature just passed a bill toallow medical providers to prescribe medical marijuanaas an alternative to opioids for treating pain. It could also be used as a treatment for substance abuse.
State Sen. George Amedore Jr., who co-chairs the Senate’s Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, said the change would cut down on patients’ exposure to opioids. “It will help patients, reduce the number of highly addictive opioids in circulation, and ultimately, it will save lives,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, on June 18, the state Health Department announced it will develop a regulatory amendment to add opioid use as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.
This all is happening amid nationwide marketing campaigns by the marijuana industry.
How effective is it? Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in the Bronx are trying to answer that. They are continuing a study to determine if medical marijuana reduces opioid use.
There are positivesigns, though: Rockefeller Institute documented a 5.9 percent drop in opioid prescriptions in states where medical marijuana is allowed, and an even more significant 6.4 percent decrease in states that legalized recreational marijuana.
Feds OK epilepsy drug
Even as New York and other states alter their marijuana regulations, the federal government still portrays pot as Public Enemy No. 1.
There’s legislation now in Congress that could fix that: the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, or STATES Act, would protect the legal pot industry from legal ramifications. President Trump has said he supports it. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long been vehemently anti-marijuana.
U.S. health regulators have approved the first prescription drug made from marijuana, a milestone that could spur more research into a drug that remains illegal under federal law. Time
So it was a big deal when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on June 25 approved the anti-seizure drug, Epidiolex, to treat certain disorders in children. It’s an oral medication based on CBD, a chemical compound found in the marijuana plant, but not THC, the compound that causes the high.
It’s the first drug derived from marijuana to win FDA approval. “This is an important medical advance,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a June 25 statement. “But it’s also important to note that this is not an approval of marijuana or all of its components.”
Meanwhile, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has kept marijuana classified as a Schedule I drug — the “baddest” of five levels — meaning the DEA recognizes no medical use and sees a high potential for abuse. By comparison, heroin and LSD are Schedule I; oxycodone and cocaine are Schedule II. Many speculate that the FDA’s approval of Epidiolex will force the DEA to reconsider the status for cannabis.
Pot was legal
Marijuana has been used for literally thousands of years. In the mid-19th century, pharmacies in the U.S. sold extracts for various treatments. Puritan roots, a growing Temperance Movement and old-fashioned racism fed the early 20th century backlash against marijuana.
The whole “Reefer Madness” idea that marijuana turned people wild (particularly men of color) started to spread as a reaction to post-Mexican revolution immigration and the popularity of jazz. More states started outlawing marijuana through the 1920s. In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act effectively outlawed the weed nationwide, despite advocacy to preserve medical uses by the American Medical Association.
As of this June, nine states and D.C. have allowed recreational marijuana; 29 states have medical marijuana programs, and more than a dozen more allow cannabidiol (CBD) for medical use.
The long history of racial disparities in marijuana enforcement shouldn’t be ignored in the ongoing discussions surrounding pot laws. But don’t expect New York to skip potential revenue that legalized marijuana could bring.
By: Nancy Cutler, LoHud