By Amy Piperato, MD
Legalization of cannabis for adult use in New York is just around the corner.
Governor Cuomo threw his weight behind cannabis legalization in a speech December 17 that outlined his top priorities for the first 100 days of the new term. Legalization could bring in between $248 million and $677 million in new tax revenue in its first year according to a study by a New York State Department of Health commission convened by Governor Cuomo in January 2018.
The adult use market is anticipated to generate $1.7 billion in sales annually. The “marihuana (sic) regulation and taxation act,” or MRTA, currently sits in the Senate Finance Committee. Expectations are high on the bill moving forward in the near future.
The Drug Policy Alliance provides the following overview of the MRTA:
“The MRTA will allow the responsible use of marijuana by adults 21 and over within a tightly regulated system. It will allow adults to legally possess, transport, purchase, consume, and share no more than two pounds of marijuana and four and a half ounces of concentrated marijuana. Adults 21 and over may also legally grow no more than six plants at their homes. The newly-formed Bureau of Marijuana Policy, within the State Liquor Authority, will coordinate regulation and enforcement with several state agencies to protect consumers, the environment, and public health and will not change the regulation of medical marijuana by the State Department of Health.”
The final language of the bill is still uncertain. The MRTA, as currently written, allows people over age 21 to grow up to 6 plants in a secure location not easily visible to the public. Local jurisdictions can adjust rules on home cultivation as long as additional rules do not completely negate an adult’s ability to grow cannabis.
In addition to the potential windfall of tax revenue, generation of jobs, and disruption of the underground market, the MRTA is a vehicle to begin to address the harm done to populations excessively arrested for low level possession and low level sale of the drug. Low level convictions will potentially be vacated.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “Under the MRTA there are still two arrestable offenses: sale to a person under the age of 21 and the unlicensed sale of over a pound of marijuana.”
As New York is poised to join 10 other states and Washington DC in cannabis legalization, one naturally looks to what is happening on the federal level. Cannabis is still a Schedule I substance according to the DEA, in spite of various appeals to change cannabis scheduling over the past decades. Schedule I drugs are, by definition, substances with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Schedule I drugs cannot be legally prescribed by physicians nor can scientific research easily be done. Some examples of other Schedule I drugs are: heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote. Cocaine and methamphetamine are substances listed as Schedule II by the DEA.
As the federal government, in the body of the DEA, calls cannabis illegal, the federal government, in the body of the FDA, has approved pharmaceutical medications containing THC and CBD – two well-known chemicals made by the cannabis plant. Intriguingly, the THC medications are listed in Schedule III or IV, and the CBD medication is Schedule V.
In my opinion as a doctor and parent of a child who benefits from cannibas-based medication, cannabis does not fall neatly into the DEA scheduling framework and should be de-scheduled, as opposed to being rescheduled, to allow for broad access and unhindered research.
Notwithstanding the hypocrisy of the federal government stance on cannabis and perplexity of the patchwork of nationwide legalization measures, optimism abounds for the repeal of outdated prohibition of the cannabis plant.
Dr. Amy Piperato is a practicing internist with an office located at 43 S Liberty Dr, Stony Point, NY