NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday said legalizing marijuana for recreational use would be one of his top legislative priorities next year.
The move, which would add New York to the list of 10 U.S. states and the District of Columbia that have legalized cannabis, could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue, according to a report commissioned by the governor and released last summer.
Neighboring New Jersey is also weighing whether to allow recreational use of marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy, a supporter of the proposal, and leaders in the Democratic-controlled legislature have been working on a bill for several months, though no action is expected until 2019.
The added revenue could help address a number of needs, including New York City’s troubled subway system, which is desperately in need of major repairs and upgrades. The legal market for marijuana in New York could be worth between $1.7 billion and $3.5 billion annually, the state report estimated.
In a speech outlining his plans for 2019, Cuomo said that legalizing marijuana would contribute to a fairer justice system. Many proponents of changing the law have argued that enforcement disproportionately harms minorities.
“We must also end the needless and unjust criminal convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma, and let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all,” Cuomo said.
The decision marks a shift for Cuomo, who as recently as last year opposed full legalization. His Democratic challenger this year, actress Cynthia Nixon, campaigned on legalizing marijuana, among other liberal positions.
Democrats will control both of the state’s legislative chambers next year after capturing the state Senate in November’s election.
Starting with Colorado and Washington in 2012, states that have legalized marijuana for adult use have typically done so through ballot measures. Vermont became the first state this year to approve recreational marijuana use via legislative action.
Other states where marijuana is legal for adult use include Alaska, Oregon, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Michigan.
In addition, 33 states - including New York - and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. During the administration of former President Barack Obama, the U.S. government largely permitted states to determine how to handle the issue on their own, but the Justice Department under President Donald Trump has allowed prosecutors to enforce federal law even in states where marijuana is legal.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Rosalba O’Brien
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