Health department issues report recommending legal marijuana

The state Department of Health released its full report on the possible impact of regulating marijuana in New York State last week, recommending that recreational use be legalized.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the assessment in January. The 74-page report includes a review of health, criminal justice, public safety, economic and educational impacts.

Among the economic benefits, the state estimates that, depending on the percentage, up to $678 million in tax revenue could be generated if recreational use were legalized. Beyond that, according to the report, regulation would create jobs in the industry and is expected to reduce costs associated with illegal marijuana, such as police time and prison fees.

The report reviewed programs in other states where recreational marijuana is legal and recommends education as the key to public safety. It also notes that surrounding states are looking into legalization as well.

“Several neighboring jurisdictions have legalized marijuana or are likely to soon,” according to the report. “Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and Canada have legalized marijuana. Legalization is under discussion in New Jersey as well.”

As for implementation, the health department said the system should be designed to diminish the unregulated marijuana market.

“Implementation of a regulated marijuana program will require legislative and regulatory approaches that address the diverse needs of the State and the differing needs of a regulated marijuana program in rural regions compared to those in urban areas,” according to the report.

Following state health commissioner Howard Zucker’s announcement of the recommendation last month, local stakeholders commented that they expect regulation of a recreational program to be heavy and that there would likely be interest from local growers.

The report touches on different approaches to marijuana growing based on existing programs in other states, such as Massachusetts, which issues different licenses with different fee structures for growers and producers, manufacturers, testing, retail and distribution.

The Department of Health recommends that New York follow a model similar to Massachusetts, but acknowledges that the state would need to establish further requirements for each step of the supply chain.

“Further consideration is needed to determine who will review and issue licenses and how often they will be updated,” according the report.

Despite the report’s positive outlook on the benefits of regulation, a legislative hurdle remains. The state Legislature would have to vote on a law to approve legalization.

“The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts,” the report concludes. “Areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations.”

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