New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker Speaks Out in Favor of Marijuana Legalization in New York, Says DOH Will Release Study Soon

Press Release June 18, 2018
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Tony Newman 646-335-5384
Melissa Moore 646-470-2827

The New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker today spoke out in favor of legalizing marijuana for adult use in New York and said that the Department of Health will be releasing a full study on the topic in the coming days. The study was commissioned by Governor Cuomo and announced in his address on the executive budget proposal.

Commissioner Zucker also announced that patients who are prescribed opioids will have access to the state’s medical marijuana program.

Below is a statement from Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

“We welcome Commissioner Zucker’s comments in favor of legalizing marijuana for adult use in New York and look forward to reviewing the full study from the Department of Health. There is ample evidence that ending marijuana prohibition is a smart way for Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature to uphold the rights of all New Yorkers and support economic and racial justice. We urge New York policy makers to get on board with legalizing marijuana for adult use, which is supported by a majority of New Yorkers.

Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to create a system to tax and regulate marijuana that will repair and reinvest in communities that have been most harmed by the marijuana arrest crusade, as set forth in the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which is pending in the Legislature.”

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Momentum for marijuana reform is building steadily in New York. A poll of New York voters released in late 2017 showed that 62% of New Yorkers support making marijuana use legal in New York for adults over 21, and more than 60% support taxing and regulating marijuana as a way to address the state’s looming budget deficit.

Legalizing marijuana for adult use in New York holds significant criminal justice reform potential. Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which is currently pending in the legislature, people who have been convicted of low-level possession (including possession in public view) and low-level sale can have that offense vacated from their record. Other offenses related to possession or sale that were previously misdemeanors or felonies can be reclassified and sealed. People currently incarcerated for such offenses would either be released or have their sentence appropriately reduced pursuant to the new statute.

This is crucial because marijuana prohibition enforcement has devastated communities across New York State, primarily those of color and low-income communities. More than 800,000 people have been arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York State over the past 20 years, with over 700,000 arrests by the NYPD alone. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people must contend with criminal records that yield significant collateral consequences for them—and their families, including limited access to housing, employment, and education opportunities.

Legalizing and regulating marijuana will also provide an opportunity, due to the revenue it will generate, for the communities that have been most devastated to start to repair the harms of the drug war. The potential tax revenue for New York from a legal marijuana market is considerable: An official study by the NYC Comptroller in 2018 estimated potential tax revenue for a legal marijuana market in New York State would be more than $1.3 billion annually.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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