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High Hopes for Legal Pot in 2019

Ten states, including Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, have legalized recreational marijuana. (vjkombajn/pixabay)
Ten states, including Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, have legalized recreational marijuana. (vjkombajn/pixabay)
December 17, 2018

NEW YORK – Drug policy reform advocates are confident that in 2019 New York will join the rush of states legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

The Empire State was slow in allowing extremely limited use of medical marijuana. But some advocates say what may have seemed inconceivable just a few years ago – regulated, legal sales for adult recreational use – could become a reality as early as next spring.

According to Kassandra Frederique, New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Colorado and the West Coast may have led the way, but with recreational use now approved in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, and pending legislation in other states, the Northeast is catching up.

"These places are really taking the lessons that we've learned from the first states and trying to build stronger and more effective regulation policies,” she states. "And so, we're in the moment where the Northeast feels like it's time for us to regulate as well."

In August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed a task force to draft legislation for a regulated marijuana program, which he is expected to include in his January budget proposal.

While regulated sales carry the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax revenue, Frederique points out that a shift from prohibition to regulation is a criminal justice issue.

"Marijuana prohibition has been a tool of law enforcement and social service agencies to criminalize poor people and communities of color, and it has really made our communities less healthy and less safe," she states.

Many advocates want tax money from marijuana sales to fund restitution for the communities most affected by criminalization.

Frederique adds that the trend toward decriminalization and regulation of marijuana also provides an opening for conversations about ways to approach drug use in general as a public health issue.

"That is the space that we need to be in, especially as we see how criminalization has not saved us from the current overdose crisis and in some instances has exacerbated the current public health crisis," she stresses.

Recreational marijuana bills have cleared legislative committees in Connecticut and New Jersey

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY