New York Governor Cuomo Looking for Legalization Plan – He Should Look West

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Last week the NY State Health Department issued a report strongly recommending that the state legalize cannabis for adults.  And on Friday, NY’s Governor Cuomo, who has shown rapid and significant growth on the issue this year, sounded like the question is not IF the Empire State should or would legalize cannabis, but HOW.

“Now you have to answer specifics,” Mr. Cuomo told reporters. “Who sells it? Where do they sell it? What quantity can you sell? That to me, the devil’s in the details. And to come up with a full program, that’s what we have to answer.”

Governor Cuomo is asking the right questions, and the answer is that New York should NOT undertake to create an entire – and entirely unnecessary – cannabis production (and testing, and processing…) industry, which will be obsolete the moment that federal prohibition ends and the east coast is inundated with better, cheaper, more sustainably gown west coast cannabis.  Instead, Governor Cuomo should call for a legalization plan that allows New York to bring in product from existing legal markets in actual cannabis producing such as Oregon and California.

Federal prohibition is dying, but it could still take three years, or five years, or seven years to make it official.  In the meantime, there is no reason for the federal government to prevent legal states from moving product between their tracking systems via licensed distributors.  Allowing states like Oregon and California to send their excess product into other legal markets, while eliminating the need for newly legal states like New York to create even more redundant production capacity, and will go a long way towards reducing the flow of cannabis into illicit markets.

It would also be the fastest and easiest way for states that are likely to legalize – New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Utah and Oklahoma on the medical side, to save time and expense on their programs, and to come right out of the gate with a world-class selection of available products, fully tested and tracked from seed to sale. 

There is little economic, business development, or law enforcement reason to force newly legal states to create entire cannabis production industries, simply to prop up the fiction that it is not legal to produce, sell, or buy cannabis.  It is legal in a growing segment of the country, which will apparently soon include New York. To the extent that we are allowing states to take the lead in reforming cannabis laws, the leaders of those states ought to fight to be able to do so rationally.  Because as Governor Cuomo said, the only  question now, is how.