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Marijuana Tax Revenue Should Fund Subway Improvement, New York’s Cuomo And De Blasio Say

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Tax revenue from legal marijuana sales would help fund efforts to improve the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York under a plan announced on Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D).

As the state moves closer to legalizing cannabis, leading lawmakers are already seeing opportunities to use marijuana tax revenue for infrastructure projects. In this case, the governor and mayor agreed that some of those dollars should supplement revenue from a congestion pricing plan they’re proposing.

“Congestion pricing tolls would be supplemented with State and City revenue from a fixed amount of the new internet sales tax derived from sales in New York City, with a growth factor, and a percentage of the State and City revenue from the cannabis excise tax,” reads part of the plan.

Portions of state and city marijuana tax revenue “will be placed in a ‘lockbox’ to provide a funding source necessary to ensure the capital needs of the MTA can be met, with priority given to the subway system, new signaling, new subway cars, track and car repair, accessibility, buses and bus system improvements and further investments in expanding transit availability to areas in the outer boroughs that have limited mass transit options.”

It was unclear whether Cuomo would back earmarking marijuana funds for transit when the idea was floated in December. But its inclusion in his and de Blasio’s 10-point plan, which also calls for the consolidation of transportation entities and combating fare evasion, puts an end to that question.

A report from New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management noted that the state can expect to generate as much as $677 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales in the first year and concluded that legalizing cannabis “should be considered in designing any policies to improve the mass transit and commuter rail systems under the control of the MTA.”

But not everyone is on board. Some drug policy reform advocates have pushed back against using marijuana revenue for subways, for example.

Cannabis revenue should not be directed “to entities like the MTA, NYCHA and Health and Hospitals, which have consistently propagated harm and been complicit in the arrest crusade by targeting people who have used marijuana by calling the police or taking black and Latina mothers away from their children after nonconsensual maternal drug tests,” Melissa Moore,  New York State deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote in an editorial.

The money should instead go toward “marginalized communities, and the people first in line need to be the people who have been ravaged by overpolicing and impacted by other insidious criminalization,” she wrote.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) also expressed concerns about the transit funding proposal on Tuesday.

But lawmakers who had led on marijuana legalization proposals in the legislature seem more open to the idea of putting at least some amount of revenue toward transportation projects.

“I don’t think we should collect all of the cannabis revenue and put it into the MTA,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) told Politico. “I totally, adamantly disagree with that, but do I think there’s some opportunity to identify a level of resources that can go on a consistent basis that they can use to plan budgets and capital projects, absolutely.”

“There was always an assumption that some money would go to the general fund, and if the governor and mayor are saying mass transit…there’s nothing inconsistent with that and the work Crystal and I have been doing,” Sen. Liz Krueger (D) said.

Cuomo included marijuana legalization language in the annual budget he proposed to lawmakers last month, but it is not clear whether the idea will end up making it into final enacted fiscal legislation or, if so, what form it will take.

Cuomo and de Blasio both first endorsed legalizing cannabis for the first time in recent months.

New York Cannabis Clash: Should Marijuana Taxes Fund Subways Or Social Justice?

This story has been updated to include comments from Heastie, Peoples-Stokes and Krueger.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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