Marijuana Legalization Could Cause Burnouts

With the push for recreational marijuana to be legalized in New York State (NY), concerns are beginning to arise regarding policies and funding for local governments.

On Dec. 17, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his support for legalizing the use of recreational marijuana in NY. In his speech, Cuomo vowed to end the unequal criminal justice system—saying that there are two criminal justice systems in the state, one for the wealthy and another for “everyone else.” 

“We will advance our justice agenda, and particularly address the forms of injustice that for too long have unfairly targeted the African-American and minority communities,” Cuomo said at the NY City Bar Association in Manhattan. “We must also end the needless and unjust criminal conduct convictions and debilitating criminal stigma, and let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.”

With this political agenda, Cuomo has proposed three taxes to be included in the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA). The first two taxes would be paid to the state and would include a cultivation tax of “$1 per dry weight gram of flower and 25 cents per dry weight gram of trim” and a 20 percent sales tax from a wholesaler to a dispensary. The third tax would be a 2 percent sales tax from a wholesaler to a retail dispensary, which would go to the counties of NY. 

According to Mayor Tim Rogers, the state is best equipped to issue licenses, regulate product safety and create age restrictions. So, an Office of Cannabis Management would be established within the state’s Division of Alcohol Beverage Control.

While many are in support of the governor’s decision to legalize marijuana, concerns regarding funding for local governments are rising among local officials. Estimations suggest that only one-third of cannabis products currently consumed will be legalized with the CRTA. 

“If legal cannabis taxation is too high and issuance of grower or dispensary licenses are too expensive, we risk the remaining two-thirds staying illegal,” Rogers said. “Local governments and underserved communities will carry the burdens as they have for decades.”

New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez said that one of the current concerns regarding legalization is the lack of being able to tell when an individual is driving under the influence of cannabis. With this concern, the local governments would have to pay to retrain police officers and find out a way to test motorists of their cannabis consumption—all without proper funding.

“I’m generally in favor of this, I’m worried it’s gonna be an unfunded mandate at the local level,” Bettez said. “From what I’ve seen so far it seems like there’s going to be a lot of taxes that are associated with this and I think the governor and a lot of people are really excited about it, but we have to do the work at the local level.”

According to the Reason Foundation, traffic fatalities fell between 8 percent and 11 percent the first year after passage of medical marijuana laws and continued to decline for three more years. However, the amount of cannabis related accidents has increased since the passage of medical and recreational marijuana laws. 

A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), THC, the psychoactive component found in marijuana, was found in 7.6 percent of drivers involved in a crash, but only 6.1 percent of control group drivers, displaying a 25 percent increase in the likelihood of an accident for individuals with THC present in their blood.

“In Ulster County, our county legislators and the candidates for County Executive need to get out in front and commit to taking a hard look at the roles and responsibilities placed upon local governments who are tasked with enforcing state laws for alcohol and will likely soon include the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act,” Rogers said.