Guest Column

Sen. Rachel May: New York should legalize cannabis

Corey Henry | Senior Staff Photographer

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Editor’s Note: Sen. Rachel May (D-Syracuse), is a sponsor of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act in the New York State Senate.

As we enter a new legislative session in January, I believe the time is long overdue for the legislature to enact a comprehensive cannabis policy. Done correctly, we can enhance the state’s long-term financial outlook, allow a new industry to flourish and further social and racial justice.

The economic case for legalizing and regulating cannabis is self-evident. It is no secret that New York faces unprecedented financial challenges due to the pandemic. Adult use of cannabis could generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue for the state each year. The leading legislation for establishing this system — the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act — directs the money to support education and public health and reinvest in the communities most harmed by past prohibition. All of these are also sectors disproportionately harmed by COVID-19 and the recent economic downturn.

The act promises widespread economic benefits. From small farms to bakeries to retail, there will be many chances for New Yorkers to benefit from the cannabis industry. By limiting vertical integration, where the same firms produce, process and sell products, the legislature will ensure that the new economic opportunities don’t just accrue to large corporations. The Rockefeller Institute of Government estimates that the new industry could generate up to $4 billion in economic activity and employ more than 30,000 people.

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Comprehensive cannabis policy will also further social and racial justice. Arrests, fines and prosecutions for marijuana possession and sale have disproportionately impacted communities of color. A recent study in Albany found that 97% of marijuana arrests — that rounds up to essentially all marijuana arrests — targeted people of color.

A single arrest for marijuana possession can make it hard to secure a job, rent an apartment, qualify for student loans or keep custody of children, to name only a few ills. The reinvestment in impacted communities envisioned by the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act would provide funding for a variety of programs to counteract these legacy impacts, such as adult education services, job training and afterschool programs.

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Ending prohibition alone is sensible, but it is not enough. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act will invest directly into impacted communities. These programs, alongside support for public education and public health, will be a wise investment that will yield benefits for years to come.

This is an issue whose time has come, not least because every day we lose dollars to our neighbors. Canada and Massachusetts already have a thriving recreational cannabis industry, and New Jersey voters just voted to legalize it as well. New York is losing more than it gains by maintaining prohibition. As we return to Albany in January, I am confident that we will finally make the right choice.

Rachel May

New York State Senator, 53rd District

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