Scanning that New York State Department of Health report that argues the case for legalizing recreational marijuana

The New York State Department of Health released its report on regulated marijuana Friday -- and it argues for legalizing recreational marijuana. Here's a chunk for the report that largely sums up the argument:

The positive effects of regulating an adult (21 and over) marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts. Harm reduction principles can and should be incorporated into a regulated marijuana program to help ensure consumer and industry safety. Legalizing marijuana could remove research restrictions in NYS, which will enable the State to add to the knowledge of both the benefits and risks. In addition, NYS would be one of the largest regulated marijuana markets. As such, there is potential for substantial tax revenue in NYS, which can be used to help support program initiatives in areas such as public health, education, transportation, research, law enforcement and workforce development. Tax revenues can also support health care and employment. Finally, legalization of marijuana will address an important social justice issue by reducing disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of certain racial and ethnic minority communities.

Whatever the political machinations at work surrounding this report, it is a remarkable document. Pretty much anyone over the age of, say, 20, has grown up with government/law enforcement/schools warning against the dangers of pot. And in this report the state Department of Health essentially says, yeah, pot has some downsides, but they're probably not as bad as they've been made out to be and our society would be better off it we made it legal and kept an eye on it.

Anyway, we read through the report and pulled out handful of highlights -- about potential benefits, opioids, mental health, criminal justice, and tax revenue -- for easy skimming...

Potential benefits of a regulated market for recreational marijuana

Consumers purchasing marijuana on the unregulated market are at a severe disadvantage for understanding the nature (e.g., potency and safety) of the product they are acquiring. In an unregulated market where there is no standardization or quality control, there are many opportunities for unsafe contaminants to be introduced, such as fungi spores, mold, bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides, and growth enhancers. As such, regulated marijuana introduces an opportunity to reduce harm for consumers through the requirement of laboratory testing and product labeling. Similar protections are in place for the alcohol and tobacco industries. In a regulated environment, individuals know what they are consuming and can choose a product accordingly. Trained employees can provide guidance and education at point of sale. [pdf p. 6]

Marijuana as therapy

Evidence supports the efficacy of marijuana's therapeutic benefits. Growing research has demonstrated that marijuana is beneficial for the treatment of pain, epilepsy, nausea, and other health conditions. The medicinal benefits of marijuana have been acknowledged. The negative health consequences of marijuana have been found to be lower than those associated with alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs including heroin and cocaine. [pdf p. 7]

Marijuana and opioids

Research indicates that regulating marijuana can reduce opioid use (legal and illegal). Medical marijuana has added another option for pain relief which may reduce initial prescribing of opioids and assist individuals who currently use opioids to reduce or stop use. Legalization may ease access to marijuana for pain management. [pdf p. 7]

Marijuana and mental health effects

Subject matter experts noted that there are many possible confounding factors when examining the relationship between marijuana use and various health outcomes, and we should, therefore, be careful about stating as fact that one thing causes another. Others noted there is substantial evidence of the effects of marijuana use on persons at risk for psychotic illnesses, and there is controversy about its effects on people with less serious mental illnesses such as milder depression and anxiety. [pdf p. 8]

Will legalization lead to more marijuana use?

Subject matter experts noted that there is no conclusive evidence about whether legalizing marijuana increases use. It was pointed out that as with alcohol, use varies. Subject matter experts noted that brief increases in use in Colorado and Washington leveled out. They noted that such increases are, at least in part, the result of tourism. People in states without legal access are willing to travel to states where marijuana is legal. As more of the country legalizes, these increases will fade. [pdf p. 9]

Or increased use among teens?

Meta-analysis of existing literature does not support the hypothesis that recent changes to marijuana laws have led to an increase in marijuana use prevalence in adolescents. According to the 2016 U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Survey on Drug Use and Health, rates of marijuana use among the nation's 12- to 17-year-olds dropped to their lowest level in more than two decades. According to a 2016 report from the State of Oregon, recent trends in youth use have been stable during the period following the enactment of adult-use regulations. A Washington State evaluation report states that across grades 6, 8, 10, and 12, marijuana use indicators have been stable or fallen slightly since legalization. The Monitoring the Future Survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that lifetime and current marijuana use among 8th and 10th graders fell substantially between 1996 and 2016 and remained stable among 12th graders nationally. [pdf p. 10]

The criminalizing of marijuana and racial disparities

Subject matter experts noted one of the biggest drivers of racial disparities in criminalization and incarceration rates is marijuana, and the best way to address it is to legalize marijuana. A great majority of arrests are for violations or misdemeanors that most people no longer view as criminal behavior. It is rare that these arrests lead to the discovery of guns or violent crimes. Subject matter experts also noted that continued prohibition of public consumption will reduce the impact of regulated marijuana on arrests. They highlighted a recent media report that described an analysis of NYC police data which found that while marijuana-related arrests have dropped, across NYC, individuals who are Black were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of White, non-Hispanic people over the past three years. Individuals who are Hispanic were arrested at five times the rate of individuals who are White. [pdf p. 13]

What to do about past convictions for marijuana-related crimes

We recommend NYS address prior criminal convictions for marijuana possession. Some jurisdictions are working toward expunging previous drug-related offenses, such as San Francisco and San Diego, where district attorneys announced that they will review, recall, resentence, potentially dismiss, and seal misdemeanor and felony marijuana convictions. Seattle's district attorney made a similar announcement. This will have lasting social justice implications, as there has been disproportionate criminalization of certain racial and ethnic groups. We recommend NYS expunge the criminal records of individuals with marijuana-related offenses. [pdf p. 26]

Instead of the illegal market

Subject matter experts emphasized the need to address the economy of the unregulated market. Regulating marijuana would provide an opportunity to direct resources to workforce development and job creation. Subject matter experts representing law enforcement said that rather than spending time on marijuana arrests, police could devote more time to other aspects of their work, such as community policing and building trust. [pdf p. 13]

Marijuana use and driving

Subject matter experts corroborated the concern that marijuana can lead to impairment and discussed the effective anti-DWI efforts that can be expanded to include education about driving while under the influence of marijuana. Law enforcement has changed the cultural dialog on drinking and driving, and their expertise will be critical in effectively addressing the issues of driving while impaired from marijuana. There was consensus that resources must be made available to support education and address law enforcement budgetary needs with the establishment of a regulated marijuana program. [pdf p. 14]

nys health marijuana regulation tax revenue tables
Two tables from the report that rough out the possible tax revenue from a legal, regulation market for recreational marijuana in New York State.

Potential tax revenue from legalized marijuana

Based on this analysis, the estimated potential total tax revenue in the first year with a price of $297 and illegal market consumption of 6.5 million ounces ranges from $248.1 million (with a 7% tax rate) to $340.6 million (with a 15% tax rate). The estimated potential total tax revenue with a price of $374 and illegal market consumption of 10.2 million ounces ranges from $493.7 million (with a 7% tax rate) to $677.7 million (with a 15% tax rate). [pdf p. 20]

How to regulate marijuana

The overarching goal of regulating marijuana in NYS must be the incorporation of harm reduction strategies. Implementation of a regulated marijuana program will require considerable planning as to the regulatory mechanisms needed to protect public health, provide consumer protection, and ensure public safety. At the same time, a well thought out program should address the social justice issues associated with criminalization, provide opportunity for community revitalization, and establish a system to capture and invest tax revenue. Ultimately, the system should be designed to reduce the utilization of the unregulated market. Implementation of a regulated marijuana program will require legislative and regulatory approaches that address the diverse needs of the State and the differing needs of a regulated marijuana program in rural regions compared to those in urban areas. [pdf p. 24]

Bottom line

The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts. Areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations. Incorporating proper metrics and indicators will ensure rigorous and ongoing evaluation. [pdf p. 28]

Of course, this is just a report. Actual legislation is a whole different matter. But between this report, the fact that neighboring states are legalizing recreational marijuana, and the way public opinion now leans in favor of legalization, it wouldn't be totally unexpected to see something happen in New York in the next few years.


+ New York's moving closer to marijuana legalization -- thinking about what could that mean for local communities


I want to grow my own. Where is that in the mix? Probably nowhere because the state would not get their pound of flesh...

The”BottomLine” of the study says it all. This is creating a market that will be regulated for the benefit of investors. Period. The chance that a working joe will be able to pass the barriers to entry into this market is zero. Yet another example of the parasitic class usurping a market built by the people. The war on drugs was created to break the anti war left and black empowerment movements. Mission accomplished. Now political winds change, keeping people stoned and distracted is to their benefit and there is money to be made.
God bless America.

Years ago all the potheads were calling for legalization: "Make it legal and tax it! It shouldn't be a crime!" Now that the legalization process is underway and the government is looking into how to effectively regulate and tax it, all the potheads are screaming a different tune: "Why can't I grow my own? Stupid government always trying to make a dime!"

This is your brain on drugs, kids...

@Ra because if it's safe for consumption why would it be illegal to grow like any other plant? Homebrewing alcohol is perfectly legal and is a fun hobby for millions. Yet breweries still make and sell beer. Tax revenue for home grown would come from purchase of gardening supplies like any other plant. In the same way that homebrewing supplies are taxed. And the ovewhelming majority of users will not grow their own. It's a non-issue, allow both.

@Sean you have no idea how many people would be growing the plant, let alone selling it on the side, so please don't pretend like you do. It's also illegal to sell your own distilled alcohol, last time I checked. It most certainly is an issue, since the issue of legalization hinged on the tax revenue from legitimate businesses growing and selling it, as well as the government keeping tabs on it, not potheads skating by on a technicality.

@Ra. Pothead here. If I could go to a store and buy pot, I'm going to choose that option over finding some illicit newbie grower. Just like when I want beer, I go to a store instead of hitting up my homebrewing friends. Even now, when visiting family who live in nearby states that have legalized marijuana and allow people to grow it, I plan to visit the shops even if those I know will pass me some homegrown nugs. Kind of like when I visit friends elsewhere, we'll drink beer in bars in addition to their home brews. Again, there's no difference between this and brewing your own beer and growing your own vegetables. The commercial markets for any of these things isn't hurt by people doing their own thing.

Your disdain for pot smokers is obvious, so let's not pretend that lost tax revenue is your issue here.

@PotHead, there are lots of false equivalencies here, so let's dig in. Anecdotal evidence isn't evidence in the slightest, so we can throw out your personal experiences when it comes to public policy. Did your friends who passed you homemade brews have a federal license to make their own alcohol? If not, you should have been reporting a crime. You need a license to even make your own home alcohol, and you definitely need a license to sell it. If your argument is to treat pot and alcohol the same way, I say great, let's charge people for growing their own. That, however, was not what was being proposed here by pot advocates, nor do I believe that's what you are arguing. My issue still stands; in the lead up to a serious conversation about legalization, potheads were crying for the government to regulate and tax it. Benefits for all! Now that the option is seriously on the table, sore losers are wondering why the government is stepping in to regulate and tax it.

Sure, I'm not a fan of druggies. I'm not a fan of people who pivot on issues or lie about them. I'm not a fan of people who think their personal anecdotes are solid grounds for a public policy stance. All together, I'm definitely not a fan of druggies who have pivoted on this issue and think their loose anecdotes are enough to sway public policy.

What I am a fan of is the push of legalization and a solid, organized method of regulating and taxing the new industry in much the same manner that alcohol and tobacco are regulated and taxed. The "solid, organized" part of the whole thing might go over potheads' heads, but, thankfully, potheads don't make public policy.

@Ra, thanks for letting us know early in that book of a comment that we should report home brewers for crimes. Once you get to that level of insanity, there's no reason to read another word.

We'll get to legalization even over your opposition and disdain. But wow, what a silly perspective you have.

[This conversation has turned personal and we've ended up holding back a few comments. Let's please stay away from ad hominem comments.]


"You cannot produce spirits for beverage purposes without paying taxes and without prior approval of paperwork to operate a distilled spirits plant. [See 26 U.S.C. 5601 & 5602 for some of the criminal penalties. You should also review our Home Distilling page.] There are numerous requirements that must be met that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use. Some of these requirements are paying excise tax, filing an extensive application, filing a bond, providing adequate equipment to measure spirits, providing suitable tanks and pipelines, providing a separate building (other than a dwelling) and maintaining detailed records, and filing reports. All of these requirements are listed in 27 CFR Part 19."

It is not "silly" nor is it "insanity" to want to follow laws. That's a dangerous opinion to have if I ever heard one.

@Sean and Ra, you're talking about two different things. Sean is referring to beer and the homebrewing of such, which is perfectly legal in all 50 states. (Source: ) Ra appears to be thinking of whisky, rum, vodka, etc., which does indeed require a permit and the miles of red tape that come with it. (For what it's worth, it's also legal to make your own wine, provided it's for personal use.)

My concern about this whole thing is the potential increase in DUI. I understand there is no objective, standardized assay to determine drug levels as there is for alcohol (blood alcohol or breathalyzer). I think that needs to be addressed before legalization.

@Tim thanks for the clarification! New information is always good information, glad I learned something today.

Another pothead here. MYOB and leave my weed alone. That's all.

@Barold, "MYOB"... not when the government is involved and it becomes a matter of public policy! At that point it IS my business.

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

What's All Over Albany?

All Over Albany is for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. In other words, it's for you. It's kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who can help you find out what's up. Oh, and our friends call us AOA.


Recently on All Over Albany

Thank you!

When we started AOA a decade ago we had no idea what was going to happen. And it turned out better than we could have... (more)

Let's stay in touch

This all feels like the last day of camp or something. And we're going to miss you all so much. But we'd like to stay... (more)

A few things I think about this place

Working on AOA over the past decade has been a life-changing experience for me and it's shaped the way I think about so many things.... (more)

Albany tightened its rules for shoveling snowy sidewalks last winter -- so how'd that work out?

If winter ever gets its act together and drops more snow on us, there will be sidewalks to shovel. And shortly after that, Albany will... (more)

Tea with Jack McEneny

Last week we were fortunate enough to spend a few minutes with Jack McEneny -- former state Assemblyman, unofficial Albany historian, and genuinely nice guy.... (more)

Recent Comments

My three year old son absolutely loving riding the train around Huck Finn's (Hoffman's) Playland this summer.

Thank you!

...has 27 comments, most recently from Ashley

Let's stay in touch

...has 4 comments, most recently from mg

A look inside 2 Judson Street

...has 3 comments, most recently from Diane (Agans) Boyle

Everything changes: Alicia Lea

...has 2 comments, most recently from Chaz Boyark

A few things I think about this place

...has 13 comments, most recently from Katherine