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Our view: Legal marijuana too divisive to jam into state budget | Editorial


Marijuana grows at a cultivation center in Albion, Ill.

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues rolling out his agenda for the new year, most would agree that getting people vaccinated against the coronavirus and reopening the economy are going to be the most urgent things to tend to. Farther down the list is the legalization of recreational marijuana, but New Yorkers are far from in agreement about how that should work — or even whether it should happen at all.

This is the third time Cuomo has broached the idea of having highly regulated and taxed marijuana available to the public, but it failed to get enough support to make it into the 2019 or 2020 state budget bills. And while the revenue wouldn’t appear overnight, marijuana has the potential to bring in about $300 million a year, and Cuomo stresses that the revenue is needed now more than ever, given the current economic crisis and multibillion-dollar state budget deficit. 

But while marijuana might appear to some as a perfect line item for a spending plan, it comes with too much baggage to simply be included in the annual budget bill. 

On one side are people concerned about the possible negative health effects and a concern that marijuana leads too many people down the road to hard drugs. Educators, doctors and law enforcement groups have all voiced opposition.

And even those who are perfectly fine with legalization are divided over how marijuana sales tax revenue should be spent, with many arguing against putting it into the general fund but rather directing it specifically to largely minority communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and historically targeted by what the New York Civil Liberties Union called “racist drug policies” in the state.

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