Fully legalizing marijuana in New York is the right policy, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a press appearance with a group of medical cannabis providers on Monday.
NEWS: NY Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on recreational marijuanaL: "The pros outweigh the cons and the report recommends a regulated legal marijuana program be available to adults."
— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) June 18, 2018
Zucker said a much-anticipated report from the state’s Department of Health will include a recommendation to regulate and commercialize cannabis in New York. That report is expected to be released soon, the commissioner said, though his department did not directly reply to a query from Marijuana Moment about the exact timing.
Our @LydiaHuNews reports that New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker would not commit to timeline for releasing @NYGovCuomo commissioned report on legalizing recreational marijuana. Says only it will be “soon.” Zucker adds that the pros of legalization outweigh the cons
— Zack Fink (@ZackFinkNews) June 18, 2018
“The pros outweigh the cons, and that the report recommends that a regulated, legal marijuana program be available to adults in the state of New York,” Zucker said.
“When new facts come in, we have to look at the analysis, we have to figure out what kind of decision to make at that point in time. We have new facts, we have new data, and as a result of that, we made a decision to move forward. So that is the decision at this point: to have a regulated legal marijuana program for adults.”
What’s more, the commissioner also recognizes the potential for marijuana to help individuals suffering from opioid addiction, which will soon become a qualifying condition to obtain a medical cannabis recommendation, he announced.
Breaking: New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker says prescription opioid use will be added to the state's medical marijuana program as a qualifying condition. Simply put, if you have an opioid prescription, you can get a medical marijuana card.
— Bethany Bump (@bethanybump) June 18, 2018
“This is a program we have grown responsibly,” Zucker said. “We feel this is another way to add the program forward.”
In a press release emailed to Marijuana Moment, Zucker expanded on his reasoning for the medical marijuana expansion.
“The opioid epidemic in New York State is an unprecedented crisis, and it is critical to ensure that providers have as many options as possible to treat patients in the most effective way. As research indicates that marijuana can reduce the use of opioids, adding opioid use as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana has the potential to help save countless lives across the state.”
The health commissioner’s comments reflect a growing consensus among New York government officials. Last month, the New York Democratic Party adopted a resolution that endorsed that regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has made statements revealing an evolution in his views on cannabis reform in recent weeks. The governor, who formerly referred to marijuana as a “gateway drug,” said the “facts changed on this issue and the facts changed quickly.” Some observers have noted the timing of the governor’s shift, as he faces competition from a vocally pro-legalization gubernatorial opponent, Cynthia Nixon (D).
The news from the health commissioner also comes about a month after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced that the city would “overhaul” its marijuana enforcement policies.
I'm announcing today that the NYPD will overhaul its marijuana enforcement policies in the next 30 days. We must end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement.
— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) May 15, 2018
“We must end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement,” de Blasio wrote.
While the momentum for legalization is apparent, it remains doubtful that any reform legislation will get a vote before the session ends and lawmakers return home on Wednesday. Two similar bills to legalize adult-use marijuana in the state have been introduced; but so far, they’ve stalled in the state Senate and Assembly.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.
More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.
NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.
State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.
That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.
It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.
For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.
The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.
Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.
Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”
“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.
DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.
The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”
At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congressman Files Marijuana Bill After Leaving Republican Party
In one of his first legislative acts since leaving the Republican Party earlier this month amid a feud with the president, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) filed a bill on Monday that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because bipartisan legislation that would accomplish the same goal has already been filed this Congress.
But unlike the nearly identical Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Amash’s new bill excludes one provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of cannabis legalization on road safety and issue a report on its findings within a year of the law’s enactment.
That language states that the GAO must study “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries” in legal cannabis states, actions taken by those states to “address marihuana-impaired driving,” testing standards being used to detect impaired driving and federal initiatives “aiming to assist States that have legalized marihuana with traffic safety.”
Given Amash’s libertarian leanings, it stands to reason that he opposes spending government dollars to conduct the research and simply supports the broader states’ rights intent of the original legislation.
That would also put him at odds with social justice advocates who feel that the STATES Act itself doesn’t go far enough and are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that includes additional provisions addressing social equity and restorative justice for people harmed by drug law enforcement.
Members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee heard that debate play out during a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition last week.
A newly formed coalition of civil rights and drug reform organizations, including the ACLU, is also insisting on passing wide-ranging legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely that also invests in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Amash is a long-standing critic of the war on drugs and earlier this year signed on as a cosponsor of a separate bill that would federally deschedule marijuana. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed that legislation, which is also silent on social equity provisions.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 8, 2019
Gabbard also introduced a separate bill that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to study the impacts of legalization. True to form, Amash declined to add his name to that measure as well.
Read the text of Amash’s new cannabis bill below:
Photo courtesy of Kyle Jaeger.