NYC Comptroller Calls For Legalized Marijuana Use In NY

John Liu, NYC Comptroller, has released a report detailing plans to overhaul the city’s broken marijuana laws by taxing and regulating recreational use.

John Liu, New York City's chief accountant who is also running for major, is calling for legalizing medicinal marijuana and allowing for adults to possess up to an ounce of pot which would pump more than $400 million into the city’s coffers:

“It is economically and socially just to tax it.  We can eliminate some of the criminal nature that surrounds the drug and obtain revenue from it,” he told AP.

The announcement comes days after Federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin condemned the city’s police department’s use of stop and frisk as racially-biased - after 600,000 unlawful arrests for marijuana possession since 1997 were documented.

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Liu’s report outlines the problems associated with marijuana arrests in New York City -- including racial disparities and the financial and human costs of prohibition, particularly the impact that a permanent criminal record has on young people. 

While the majority of people who enter the criminal justice system for possession of marijuana rarely go on to commit violent crimes, the arrests have extensive adverse consequences for those arrested, including lessening their opportunities for employment, education, housing, and loans, according to a Drug Policy Alliance.

Liu calculated that 900,000 city pot smokers spend about $2,000 a year on the drug. He is therefore calling for the revenue surge to be used to reduce tuition at the City University of New York for city residents. 

The announcement comes amidst increasing recent pressure on the federal and state governments to review marijuana policies, with Liu’s plan likely to face stiff opposition from state lawmakers who would have to authorize it. 

Legislators continue work to pass a medical marijuana proposal, with the Assembly passing a “tightly-crafted” bill earlier this year.  Twenty states now permit the use of medical marijuana with Colorado and Washington last year voting to allow recreational use for adults.   Officials predict that change would create a surge in revenue. 

In a press release, Drug Policy Alliance said fixing New York’s marijuana laws would save hundreds of millions of dollars every year, which could be reinvested into the community. Moreover, by enacting a regulatory framework, the City and state could capture tax revenue that is, currently, largely under the control of criminal enterprise.  Many experts see the taxation and regulation of marijuana as a more effective way of controlling teen use than our current failed approaches. 

Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.