Legal weed would be a $3.1 billion industry in New York, report says

Written by
Clayton Guse
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Nahuel Carvajal

Last month, after Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon came out in favor of marijuana legalization in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo took a small step toward throwing his support behind the issue.

“I know people have opinions...but opinions should be based on facts,” he said, referencing legislation that would let New Yorkers get legally blitzed on some fat ass bong hits. “So let's talk to the experts; let's put together the facts.”

Cuomo commissioned a study on the potential impacts of cannabis legalization earlier this year and has deflected to that nearly every time he’s been publicly asked about the matter. But on Wednesday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office released a study of its own, which detailed the estimated tax revenues that legal grass could reap in the city and state. 

The report looks at the amount of revenue that cannabis sales have generated in other states that have legalized the drug. In 2017, for example, roughly $1.3 billion worth of legal pot was sold in Washington State, which led to an additional $319 million in revenue. In Colorado, those figures for the same year were $1.5 billion and $247 million, respectively. In both of those states, which were the first in the country to legalize weed, marijuana use has grown each year since the laws were changed. 

But here’s the thing: Washington State’s adult population is approximately 5.5 million. Colorado’s is 4.1 million. New York City alone has 6.5 million adults, and the state has a whopping 15 million. If consumers smoke the legal drug at the same rate as people do in those western states, Stringer estimates that New York State’s cannabis market could be in the ballpark of $3.1 billion, with $1.1 billion of that coming from the five boroughs. The report points out that these numbers ignore the impact of the 970,000 workers who commute from outside of New York City each day as well as the 239 million annual tourists visiting the state. 

With all that data, Stringer proposes a 10 percent retail excise tax on all marijuana sales in the state and a 25 percent excise tax in the city. If implemented, he estimates that the city could realize an additional $336.4 million in annual tax revenue, on top of an additional $435.7 million for the state. 

There are still a lot of concerns when it comes to legalizing marijuana in New York—Cuomo has previously said that there is currently not enough support for it in the state legislature. On top of that, if New York City imposes a higher tax on cannabis than neighboring states like New Jersey, it could lead to an influx of smuggled, untaxed cheebah, similar to what the city already sees with cigarettes

Still, with pot legalization already on the books in Massachusetts and legislation coming down the pipe in New Jersey, it’s just a matter of time before the widespread smuggling of legally purchased devil's lettuce from other states becomes a problem in New York. The green goodness is already being distributed across the state, yet, as of now, New Yorkers aren’t able to cash in on those millions in tax revenue. 

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