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Panel says New York State should legalize recreational marijuana

Marijuana should be legalized for recreational use in New York State, a Cuomo administration panel recommended in a report released Friday.

Legalizing and regulating pot would benefit public health, has the potential to generate "substantial" tax revenue for the state and would lessen disproportionate effects of incarceration and criminalization on minority communities, the panel concluded in the 74-page report.

"The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in [New York State] outweigh the potential negative impacts," the panel said in the report.

Among the panel's recommendations:

  • The legal age to buy marijuana should be no lower than 21.
  • The maximum amount that could be purchased in one transaction should be an ounce.
  • The state should expunge the criminal records of individuals with marijuana-related offenses.

Estimates of the potential total state and local tax revenue in the first year of legalization range from $248.1 million to $677.7 million, according to an analysis conducted by the state Department of Health and the Department of Taxation.

Jack Porcari, an advocate for legalization, called the report "amazing."

Porcari is an 18-year-old Amherst resident who will be entering college this fall. He has epilepsy, and he said the panel's report could lead to medical marijuana users like himself getting more affordable treatment options.

Legalizing marijuana could lower costs for the transport and sale of medical marijuana, he said. It could also legalize other ways of ingesting medical marijuana, like a gummy form of the drug, he said.

“This is a big deal,” said Porcari, an organizer for the Western New York chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “It’s finally coming to fruition.”

He also likes the panel’s recommendation to expunge criminal records of people with marijuana-related convictions.

“It’s not a crime,” Porcari said of smoking marijuana. “People shouldn’t be looked down upon.”

The teenager added that it’s hard to get a professional job after a marijuana-related conviction, and by expunging those criminal records, it’ll help those with convictions get better jobs.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said last month the panel would recommend marijuana legalization.

The panel's report follows Cuomo's request in January for a study on the issue. The governor's political opponents and critics have pointed to what they describe as Cuomo's rapidly changing position on legalizing pot. In the past, Cuomo has opposed legalizing recreational marijuana and has called it a "gateway drug."

Nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana use for people older than 21, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that says its mission is to end marijuana prohibition.

The report was produced with input from multiple state agencies along with "subject matter experts" in a number of fields.

"No insurmountable obstacles to regulation of marijuana were raised," the panel wrote in its conclusion.

If the state decides to pursue legalization, further exploration of issues concerning implementation would be required, the panel found.

The campaign for Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo in the Democratic primary, accused the governor of using the marijuana issue to distract from Thursday's conviction of a top state official.

“For eight years, Gov. Cuomo oversaw the criminalization of communities of color with drug policy chief among the tools used to do so. Today, his administration endorses marijuana legalization not because it is the right thing to do, but to distract from the conviction of his top economic aide,” said campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt.

The spokeswoman was referring to Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute who the governor put in charge of implementing the Buffalo Billion program.

“The timing of the announcement really makes you wonder if Cuomo is hoping New Yorkers get too stoned to remember that the architect of his signature economic program is going to be joining his other top aide Joe Percoco in prison,” Hitt said.

Nixon has called for marijuana legalization since the beginning of her campaign.

The report comes a day after a jury returned guilty verdicts in the bid-rigging trial. Kaloyeros, Buffalo developer Louis P. Ciminelli, along with two Syracuse-area developers, were found guilty by a federal jury Thursday of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

News Staff Reporter Sam Ogozalek contributed to this report.

Legalize pot in New York? A state panel says yes

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