From Prohibition to Progress: What New York Needs to Know About Marijuana Legalization in Eight States and D.C.

Press Release January 22, 2018
Media Contact

Contact:
Kassandra Frederique 646-209-0374
Jag Davies 212-613-8035

New York, NY — A new report by the Drug Policy Alliance, From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization, demonstrates how and why marijuana legalization is working so far in eight states and Washington, D.C.

The report comes on the heels of Governor Cuomo calling for a state-funded study on the impacts of marijuana legalization and a New York State Assembly hearing on the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA, S.3040B/A.3506B) [video available here].

Congress and numerous states are moving to legalize marijuana this year, building on positive outcomes in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington, D.C. In Vermont, Governor Phil Scott is expected to sign the state’s marijuana legalization bill today, making it the 9th state to legalize marijuana – and the first to do so via state legislature – in a rebuke to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded Obama-era guidance this month allowing states to implement their own marijuana laws with limited federal interference.
 
On Tuesday, January 23 at 1pm (ET) / 10am (PT), DPA will host a press teleconference to discuss the report’s findings with key policymakers and elected officials:

Members of the press are invited to join Tuesday’s teleconference. Please contact Tony Newman for call-in info.: 646-335-5384

From Prohibition to Progress finds that states are saving money and protecting the public by comprehensively regulating marijuana for adult use. There have been dramatic decreases in marijuana arrests and convictions, saving states millions of dollars and preventing the criminalization of thousands of people.

Marijuana legalization is having a positive effect on public safety and health. Youth marijuana use has remained stable in states that have legalized. Access to legal marijuana is associated with reductions in some of the most troubling harms associated with opioid use, including opioid overdose deaths and untreated opioid use disorders. DUI arrests for driving under the influence, of alcohol and other drugs, have declined in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize marijuana. At the same time, states are exceeding their marijuana revenue estimates and filling their coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Marijuana criminalization has been a massive waste of money and has unequally harmed Black and Latino communities,” says Jolene Forman, staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance. “This report shows that marijuana legalization is working. States are effectively protecting public health and safety through comprehensive regulations. Now more states should build on the successes of marijuana legalization and advance policies to repair the racially disparate harms of the war on drugs.”
 
“As New York moves to study the implications of legalizing marijuana for adult use, as Gov. Cuomo announced last week, we would be wise to learn from the experiences of the states that have done so successfully,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “There is ample evidence that ending marijuana prohibition is a smart way to uphold people’s rights by slashing arrests, while shielding against opioid overdose deaths and supporting sustainable economic growth. Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes have studied the successful outcomes in other states and applied those lessons to the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which would create a system to tax and regulate marijuana and repair and reinvest in communities that have been most harmed by New York’s marijuana arrest crusade. Governor Cuomo and the Department of Heath would do well to study the findings in From Prohibition to Progress and use those lessons to support existing legislation to legalize marijuana in New York.”

The report’s key findings include:
 
Marijuana arrests are down. Arrests for marijuana in all legal marijuana states and Washington, D.C. have plummeted, saving states hundreds of millions of dollars and sparing thousands of people from being branded with lifelong criminal records.

Youth marijuana use has not increased. Youth marijuana use rates have remained stable in states that have legalized marijuana for adults age 21 and older.

Marijuana legalization is linked to lower rates of opioid-related harm. Increased access to legal marijuana has been associated with reductions in some of the most troubling harms associated with opioids, including opioid overdose deaths and untreated opioid use disorders.

Calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency departments for marijuana exposure remain relatively uncommon.

Our roads remain safe following legalization.

Marijuana tax revenues are exceeding initial estimates. Marijuana sales in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and most recently in Nevada, began slowly as consumers and regulators alike adjusted to new systems. Once up and running, however, overall sales and tax revenue in each state quickly exceeded initial estimates. (Sales in California started on January 1, 2018, and no data are available yet. Sales in Massachusetts will not begin until July 2018. Sales in Maine are on hold pending approval of an implementation bill for the state’s regulated marijuana program. In D.C. no retail cultivation, manufacturing or sales are permitted at this time.)

States are allocating marijuana tax revenues for social good.

The marijuana industry is creating jobs. Preliminary estimates suggest that the legal marijuana industry employs between 165,000 to 230,000 full and part-time workers across the country. This number will only continue to grow as more states legalize marijuana and replace their unregulated markets with new legal markets.
 
The report also includes considerations for policymakers and advocates going forward:
 
We need to foster equity in the marijuana industry. The communities most harmed by marijuana criminalization have struggled to overcome the many barriers to participation in the legal industry. Some states and cities, however, are implementing rules to help increase equity and reduce barriers to entry in the marijuana industry.

We need to reduce racial disparities and reform police practices. While marijuana legalization dramatically reduces the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses, it clearly does not end racially disparate policing. Police practices must be reformed to fully remedy the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws. It is widely documented that there are vast racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws. Black and Latino people are far more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white people, despite similar rates of use and sales across racial groups.
 
We need to establish safe places for people to use marijuana. Consuming marijuana in public is illegal in all jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for adults 21 and older. It is a misdemeanor in Nevada and Washington, D.C., and a civil penalty subject to fines and fees in all other states. This means that people who lack the means to pay the fines and fees, or those without homes or in federally-subsidized housing, risk being jailed for consuming a lawful substance. Public use violations are also disproportionately enforced against people of color, particularly Black people.
 
We need to promote marijuana decriminalization and penalty reductions for youth and young adults. In several states, marijuana legalization has had the unintended consequence of reducing historically high numbers of youth (under 18 years of age) and young adults (between 18 and 20 years old) stopped and arrested for marijuana offenses. However, these reductions are inconsistent from state-to-state. In some circumstances, youth now comprise a growing number of people charged with marijuana offenses. California’s approach is too new to be evaluated, but it appears to be a good step toward reducing youth and young adults’ risk of criminal justice involvement for marijuana-related conduct:

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

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