Could New York be the next state to legalize marijuana?

New York appears open to legalizing marijuana following a report by the state’s Health Department.

The list of states that have legalized recreational marijuana continues to grow, with New York's neighbors Massachusetts and New Jersey being the latest additions. New York itself, however, has so far resisted calls by the public and individual lawmakers to also bring marijuana prohibition to an end in the state. However, that could soon be changing. As the New York Times reports, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who once described marijuana as a "gateway drug," recently offered indication that legal marijuana in the Empire State is now more a matter of when and not if.

Government reports recommends legalization

The governor's seeming change of heart appears to have been caused by the recent release of a report by the New York Health Department that declared that the positive effects of legal marijuana outweigh any of the potential downsides. That 75-page report, as Forbes notes, says that "no insurmountable obstacles to regulation of marijuana were raised" by state agencies or consulted experts.

Gov. Cuomo also recently acknowledged that legal marijuana in Massachusetts and New Jersey would make it much harder to keep marijuana from coming into New York. Given that fighting marijuana consumption appears to be a losing battle that only enriches organized crime, the better option, according to the Health Department's report, is to try to regulate it instead.

New Yorkers support legalization

While Gov. Cuomo insists that legalization will not happen until next year at the earliest, it already enjoys widespread support across the state. One poll, for example, found that 63 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of marijuana legalization. Current laws against marijuana have failed to cut marijuana use and have been disproportionately used against minorities and certain racial groups.

New York could also benefit from the fact that it has been slower to legalize recreational marijuana than other states. Early legal marijuana states have had issues with legalization, such as a tax in Oregon that was so high it led many consumers to keep purchasing marijuana from illicit suppliers. Other states have also had issues with enforcing drugged driving laws and with employers firing workers for using marijuana at home. The Health Department's report noted that New York can learn from the mistakes other states have made so as to set up a legal marijuana regulatory framework that functions more smoothly.

Criminal defense law

While legal marijuana in New York may simply be a matter of time, it is important to remember that marijuana is still illegal here both under state and federal laws. That means that anybody charged with a marijuana-related offense could be facing stiff fines and even jail time. A criminal defense attorney can help clients facing such charges understand what their rights are and how to go about defending and upholding them.