Another barrier to legal pot just went up in smoke.
The state’s top health official said Monday that he’s going to recommend the legalization of marijuana in a report to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“We looked at the pros. We looked at the cons and when we were done, we realized that the pros outweighed the cons and the report recommends that a regulated, legal marijuana program be available to adults in the state of New York,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said at an event in Brooklyn.
“I will finalize that report soon and bring it to the governor.”
It’s a stunning reversal for an administration where Cuomo once described the five-fingered leaf as a “gateway” drug.
But he has since come under intense pressure to legalize pot from his Democratic primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon.
Zucker said all the evidence shows pot isn’t a gateway drug.
“When those facts change, we need to do a better analysis of that,” Zucker said, adding there was no evidence to show that smoking pot paves a path to harder drugs. “This is no different than medicine. When new facts come in, you have new data.”
The news was first reported by the State of Politics website.
Zucker made the remarks at an event in Brooklyn where he also announced the state would be expanding its medical marijuana program to allow for treatment of opioid addiction.
He said the state was still working to finalize the regulations for the expanded program.
Additionally, Zucker told reporters that his office was still weighing New York City’s request to open safe injection sites to combat the opioid crisis.
“I’m looking at it and obviously weighing all the different components to this. There’s a lot of factors involved in this and we have to do this very responsibly… I asked a lot of questions of them and they replied and I’m evaluating that now,” he said.
More than 1,400 people died in New York City last year from drug overdoses, preliminary statistics show. That’s more than died from murder, car crashes and suicides combined.
Health officials have linked more than 80 percent of those cases to opioids: a powerful and dangerous synthetic concoction known as fentanyl accounted for half of the total deaths.
Cuomo began moving to the left on pot as he prepped for a possible liberal challenge in the Democratic primary this year, which eventually came from Nixon.
He ordered the Health Department to study the issue in January and then described legalization as likely in April, after Nixon released a video pushing for it.
Advocates and some prosecutors have pushed for the decriminalization and eventual legalization of the drug, saying that minorities are disproportionately targeted by police officers for marijuana arrests.
Both the Brooklyn and Manhattan DAs have announced they would stop prosecuting most pot possession cases.
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