(WKTV) – Governor Cuomo and leaders of the State Assembly and Senate have announced a deal that would legalize recreational marijuana in New York. However, if passed, it would not take effect until almost 2 years.
The issue has created a sharp divide amongst the state's political leaders, with Attorney General Letitia James calling the agreement a critical moment in the fight for criminal justice reform. Others, like 118th District Assemblyman Robert Smullen, were less thrilled.
"We’ve spent years and years telling people, you know, to reduce smoking to stop smoking, and here we are, we're going to pass a policy change, that's going to encourage people to smoke."
The proposed agreement would bring the state an estimated 350 million dollars annually in tax revenue, with 40% going to a community grants reinvestment fund, 40% going to public education, and 20% going to drug treatment, prevention and education.
The money would come from a 9% sales tax, with an extra 4% tax going solely to county and local governments. Smullen still contends that the benefits are not worth the costs.
"I think the idea that we're going to raise so much revenue, from the legalization of marijuana that we're going to be able to pay for education and we're going to you know, Split it with the, you know, the local governments, it's really not worth it, we're talking only $300 million a year out of $175 billion state budget. So this is no pot of gold for New York State at all."
The proposal's biggest benefit amongst its supporters is its effect on the criminal justice system, where nonviolent drug offenders are a key reason for the overcrowding of prisons, and is especially the case amongst African Americans, which make up a disproportionate number of non-violent drug arrests.
If the bill is passed, all marijuana-related offenses that would no longer be criminalized would be expunged from records. The state district attorneys' association and the state sheriff's association oppose the legalization, saying that over-taxation could lead to the creation of a new black market and that it would be nearly impossible to enforce, a sentiment echoed by 119th District Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon.
"There is no technology to clearly test the level that an individual has within their system at this time so they have brought this as a major concern"
The bill is expected to pass this week.