Before Pot Legalization, Some Questions Need To Be Answered

Recently, very quietly, New York took an incremental step toward legalizing marijuana.

A study commissioned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo recommended the state allow adults to consume marijuana legally. Howard Zucker, state health commissioner, told The New York Times, “We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons, and when we were done, we realized that the pros outweighed the cons.”

Residents and visitors to New York spend between $1.7 and $3.5 billion on illegal marijuana each year, the report states, while estimates are that the state could make between $250 and $678 million in revenue each year on marijuana taxes. Legalizing marijuana also eliminates some of the issues the state is likely to face as states on its eastern border like Massachusetts and Vermont legalize the drug.

There are a boatload of questions to be answered before legalization legislation makes its way through the state Legislature.

The study itself mentions the need to include safeguards and measures to limit access to those under the age of 21, minimize impaired driving and connect people to treatment if needed. We wonder how retail establishments will be regulated and if local communities can pass zoning laws prohibiting marijuana businesses if they feel strongly against them. What happens to criminal records for those who have been convicted of low-level marijuana possession? And then, of course, there is the mother of all marijuana-related questions — is marijuana a drug that opens the door to other illegal opioids? Would legalizing marijuana create more problems for a state already struggling to treat those suffering from opioid addiction? Statistically, how many deaths have there been related to marijuana use? One would think such information would be available.

Our society answered many of these same questions when dealing with alcohol, which traveled the path from legal substance to one prohibited by the U.S. Constitution before it was legalized again when Prohibition was repealed. In fact, physicians lobbied across the country during prohibition for licenses to prescribe medicinal liquor. Sound familiar?

However one feels about marijuana legalization, we can all probably agree on this — the state Legislature and whoever is in the governor’s office for the next legislative session need to hammer out this legislation in public rather than in a back room at the end of the state’s budget deliberations. The public deserves to know exactly what is in this bill before it is passed so that it can be engaged in the debate.