Legal Pot Would Mean Pot of Gold for New York, Comptroller Says

NEW YORK—New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to stand firm against legalizing marijuana in New York State, but a new report from the city’s own comptroller’s office says that both the city and the Empire State are turning up their noses at hundreds of millions in revenue that could be used to improve essential social services, by refusing to join the nationwide trend toward liberalizing pot laws.

Thirty of the 50 states now have laws that legalize cannabis to some degree. Eight states as well as Washington, D.C., have enacted legislation making sale of pot for recreational use broadly legal, while 22 other states allow regulated cannabis use for medical purposes.

A recent poll by the respected Pew Research Center showed widespread public support for legal marijuana, with 61 percent of Americans now saying that they support making weed legal. Even 43 percent of Republicans support legalization, according to the Pew survey.

But New York, despite allowing limited use of medical marijuana, has yet to fully legalize the drug for recreational consumption—a move that could bring $435 million per year flowing into state coffers, according to a new study by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

“This is not just about dollars—it’s about justice. Not only is marijuana an untapped revenue source for the City and the State, but the prosecution of marijuana-related crimes has had a devastating and disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic communities for far too long,” Stringer said in a statement. “There is simply no reason for New York to be stuck in the dark ages. This new analysis shows just how much New York City and State stand to benefit by moving toward legalization.”

According to Stringer’s study, of the nearly 20 million people who reside in New York state, 1.5 million are “regular marijuana users.” Based on the rate of pot consumption in other states where marijuana is already legal for recreational use, Stringer estimates that those pot users—550,000 of whom live inside the five boroughs of New York City—would purchase $3.1 billion of pot on an annual basis.

Once the state takes its cut from taxes imposed on legal weed sales, that translates to $435.7 million per year in new tax revenues to beef up state funds—$336 million of which would go straight to New York City, Stringer estimates

"This is a new revenue stream," Stringer said on Wednesday. “This is going to impact the kinds of resources we'll have to invest in education, to invest in health care."

The city comptroller's report comes less than a month after New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, announced that he would introduce a bill to make marijuana legal at the national level, though states would still be free to keep criminal laws against the drug on the books.

Photo by Chmee2 / Wikimedia Commons