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August 14, 2013

NYC Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu advocating marijuana legalization

NYC Mayoral Race.JPEG-057d3This new AP story, which provides further proof of a fast-moving, sea-change in marijuana reform and policy discussions, reports that "New York City Comptroller John Liu is proposing a historic overhaul of the city’s marijuana laws, believing that legalizing medical marijuana and allowing adults to possess an ounce of pot for recreational use would pump more than $400 million into the city’s coffers." Here is more:

The sweeping change, which would put New York at the forefront of a growing national debate over use of the drug, calls for recreational marijuana to be regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco.

Liu, the city’s top financial officer who is also running for mayor, commissioned a report that finds that New York City has a $1.65 billion marijuana market. If a 20 percent excise tax and the standard 8.875 percent city sales tax is imposed on the pot sales, it would yield $400 million annually in revenue, Liu believes. Another $31 million could be saved a year in law enforcement and court costs.

“It is economically and socially just to tax it,” Liu told the Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. “We can eliminate some of the criminal nature that surrounds the drug and obtain revenue from it.”

The comptroller’s plan, which likely faces stiff opposition from state lawmakers who would have to authorize it, calls for the state to oversee private businesses selling pot. Licenses would be required, fees would be charged, and using the drug in public or while driving would be prohibited.

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

Twenty states and the District of Columbia currently permit medicinal marijuana. Two states, Washington and Colorado, last year voted to allow recreational marijuana for adults.

Officials in both states predicted that the change would be create a surge in revenue — up to $60 million annually in Colorado alone, according to supporters there. But while it is too soon to evaluate the exact economic ramifications in those states, experts do believe that the city budget would be bolstered by a similar measure.

“Now, people selling the product are doing it under the table and aren’t paying any taxes on it,” said Carl Davis, Senior Analyst at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. “That would change. And, it stands to reason, people would also start legally producing it locally, so there would be economic benefits there too.”

One of the nation’s leading pro-marijuana industry groups applauded Liu’s proposal. “We recognize that marijuana is better sold behind the counter than on the streets,” said Betty Aldworth, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

But neither Liu nor any city official has the authority to decriminalize marijuana; that can only be done by a law that passes the state legislature and is then signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo has steadfastly opposed any decriminalization efforts and is seen as unlikely to waver from that stance, particularly as he approaches a re-election campaign next year. The Republicans who share majority control of the Senate have also opposed decriminalization proposals. Neither Cuomo nor the Senate GOP leadership would comment on Liu’s proposal.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose support could sway minds in Albany, has also long opposed efforts to legalize marijuana. His top spokesman declined comment on Liu’s proposal.

Liu is currently placing fifth in Democratic mayoral polls.

I think this story is notable and significant not only because a notable NYC politician is making a public case for marijuana legalization, but also because it seems likely to get this mayoral candidate a lot more media attention in the weeks and months ahead. And if this pot legalization advocacy not only improves Liu's media hits, but also his overall standing in the mayoral pols, lots of other politician are sure to take note.

August 14, 2013 at 04:38 PM | Permalink


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The link to the AP story isn't showing up. It's there in the source, but confusing my browser with two nested anchors.

All the talk about the tax windfall from legalization seems to me to be misplaced. When folks can grow their own, the price is going to drop to near zero. (Think zucchinis.) The real value is keeping those millions out the hands of thugs and gangsters.

Posted by: Boffin | Aug 14, 2013 5:15:54 PM

"This new AP story, which provides further proof of a fast-moving, sea-change in marijuana reform and policy discussions..."

One thing I love about Doug is how politically savvy he is. The idea, by putting up repeated enthusiastic posts about largely (although not exactly) the same thing, is to fan the idea that legalization is inevitable, so opponents should just give up.

Actually, the polling on legalization is pretty much in equipoise, as I have shown before. Recreational legalization won in Colorado and Washington (about which we have seen a zillion posts), and lost in Oregon and California (about which we have seen many, many fewer posts).

I saw this same "inevitability" thing 30 or 40 years ago about the Equal Rights Amendment, but I'm still having trouble finding it in the Constitution.

There are no facts about the future. Both legalizers and criminalizers would be better off to remember this humbling truth.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 14, 2013 5:32:11 PM

I do not think marijuana legalization opponents should give up, Bill. Indeed, I hope they will do their very best to develop the strongest, evidence-based policy arguments for prohibition and/or whatever they think are the most compelling reasons not to reform existing pot laws, policies and practices. Moreover, I do not think I have ever asserted that legalization is inevitable.

What I said above, and why I am teaching a new seminar on this topic, is because we are now seeing a "fast-moving, sea-change in marijuana reform and policy discussions" of a sort I did not expect to see just a few years ago. As early as just a decade ago, it was quite difficult to find even one serious politician advocating full legalization and even medical marijuana remained something of a fringe topic. But now we see a (serious and viable?) candidate for mayor in the largest city in the US looking to jump-start his campaign by advocating legalization. I think that counts as a sea-change (comparable, you might say, to the swift evolution in views and laws concerning gay marriage).

I think you are 100% right that we cannot know what the future holds on this issue. Gosh knows that, roughly 100 years ago, as more and more states went dry and alcohol prohibition was a leading political issue nationwide, many good folks thought they were on their way to making America an alcohol-free nation forever. But now I have no trouble finding every type of alcohol in almost every grocery store and restaurant in almost every town in Ohio (which, as you may know, was the state serving as the birthplace of both the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (1874) and the Anti-Saloon League (1893)).

Posted by: Doug B. | Aug 14, 2013 6:13:12 PM

Mr. Liu is not a viable candidate. (He is the only candidate still polling worse than Anthony Weiner after the latter's recent and ongoing implosion, for example.) On the other hand, Mr. Liu may have thought a lot more about the criminal justice system and sentencing policy than many other politicians, what with the indictments of several of his associates for alleged crimes involving their fundraising efforts for his campaign (which led to some speculation about whether Liu himself would be indicted but he seems to have avoided that fate so far). Following the bursting of the Weiner bubble, Bill de Blasio has been allegedly surging in the polls as the most self-consciously "progressive" candidate in the Democratic primary field. If he hasn't signed on for legalization, that's a pretty good sign that it ain't (yet) a political winner even among the sorts of people who vote in NYC Democratic primaries (although it could also just be a sign that he doesn't want to contradict Gov. Cuomo on what is at present a purely symbolic issue pending a change in the political dynamic in Albany). I think various "progressive" NYC pols have expressed serious concern about the use in practice of penny-ante pot possession charges e.g. in connection with the Bloomberg administration's stop-and-frisk tactics, but mostly haven't yet gotten to the point of saying "so if we just repeal the statute altogether, the cops won't be able to use it in the ways we don't like."

Tom Leighton won over 24,000 votes for Manhattan Borough President way back in the '97 election running as a single-issue candidate on the Marijuana Reform Party line, although I have anecdotal reason to believe that some of those were protest votes by right-of-center voters who were never going to vote for the Democrat but were disgusted that the Republicans and Conservatives had given their ballot lines to the extraordinarily embarrassing (to be fair, he had not yet been convicted of hiring a hit man to bump off one of his business partners . . .) Abe Hirshfeld.

Posted by: JWB | Aug 14, 2013 8:16:05 PM

Bill, despite your valiant efforts, I think you're on the losing end of this one. For example, Oregon's governor (a physician) just signed a bill authorizing medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state. For better or worse, "the times they are a-changin'".

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Aug 15, 2013 3:03:20 PM

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