Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes New York legalize recreational marijuana

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By David K. Li

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday called on New York state to fully legalize recreational marijuana, which would open the door for legal sales, government regulation and taxes on the drug.

The governor said this step would help to end what he called “two criminal justice systems; one for the wealthy and well-off, and one for everyone else.”

“And that’s going to end,” Cuomo said in his address in Manhattan outlining his 2019 legislative priorities. “We must end the needless and unjust convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma and let’s legalize the adult use of recreational use of marijuana once and for all.”

The governor’s announcement Monday marked another milestone in his evolution regarding marijuana. As recently as 2017, Cuomo called marijuana a “gateway drug” that could lead to more significant substance abuse.

Earlier this year, Cuomo ordered the state health department to study the viability of legalizing recreational pot in New York. The study found that that benefits of taxation and regulation outweighed potential harm.

In this past year’s Democratic primary, Cuomo’s opponent, Cynthia Nixon, had called for the legalization of pot, arguing that current marijuana laws unfairly target minorities. In addition, Cuomo will soon be negotiating with a fully Democratic-controlled state legislature, which should make it easier to make legalization possible.

The governor has recently voiced some support for New York to join the ranks of Alaska, Colorado, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Vermont and the District of Columbia, all of which have legal recreational pot.

Outside of California, New York would be the largest state to do so, and its prominence could affect the national debate on legalization. Marijuana remains on the federal list of controlled substances.

There are a total of 33 states — which include the 10 recreational pot states — that have legalized medical marijuana programs, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association.

A spokesperson for the trade group said Monday that Cuomo’s turnaround is late but welcomed.

“The reality is that politicians have lagged behind society’s view and they’re just now starting to catch up,” the association’s communications director, Morgan Fox, told NBC News.

In addition to the marijuana proposal, Cuomo also on Monday called for ending cash bail, which he said that — like current pot laws — disproportionately harms the poor and minorities.

“A judge should be able to determine the individual’s risk of release rather than the individual’s access to wealth,” the governor said. “And that’s why we need to take the cash bail system and end it once and for all.”