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Top New York Health Official Embraces Marijuana Legalization

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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.

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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

New York Democratic Party Endorses Legalizing Marijuana

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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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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