By Emily Drooby
There’s always a scramble to find money for New York’s subways and buses. But a new plan to help fix mass transit with a tax on marijuana is something that is causing a lot of talk and concern, especially from Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
“We’re looking for trouble because it is a gateway drug for many people,” said Bishop DiMarzio.
The bishop is an outspoken critic of marijuana’s dangers and he’s concerned about the plan to pay for mass transit improvements with a pot tax.
“We have practically stopped people from smoking cigarettes…because we wanted to make them more healthy,” he said.
“Now, because we can tax it, we think it’s going to be good that we have a whole new industry running around marijuana and that people are not going to be stoned when they’re driving their car and have accidents. I don’t see the wisdom in this.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio are teaming up to release a 10-point plan on how they will transform the MTA and pay for it. Including raising money through congestion pricing tolls, where people would have to pay more to drive south of 61st street in Manhattan.
Those tolls would be supplemented by a new internet sales tax and “a percentage of the state and city revenue from the cannabis excise tax” referring to the likely, but not yet hammered out, legalization of recreational marijuana in New York, endorsed by both politicians.
They say the money from congestion pricing and the two taxes would fund the following: new signaling for the subway, new subway cars, subway track and car repair, accessibility, buses and bus system improvements and expand transit availability to areas with limited mass transit.
Msgr. Joseph Nugent, who has spent much of his life working with recovering addicts in the Brooklyn Diocese, echoes the bishop’s concerns over the plan.
Impact of Addiction
“Interestingly enough over the years, the one thing that has surfaced over and over and over again was ‘well, I began smoking weed, it was an entrance level drug that led to the destructive cycle, that was destroying families, people and society,’”said Msgr. Nugent.
The monsignor’s biggest worry is the impact of an addiction to the substance.
“It’s destroying someone who has been created in the image and the likeness of God, the preciousness the sacredness of our life is being attacked by our own government.”
Legalizing Recreational Marijuana
The tax of course depends on the state legalizing recreational marijuana which is not yet a reality.
The New York State Catholic Conference called on the state’s legislators to reject any proposal that would legalize recreational marijuana use.
The conference warned that the state was rushing to approve a measure that Gov. Cuomo has pushed to be included in legislation setting the state budget for fiscal year 2020, which starts April 1. Legalization would “open a Pandora’s box that will have multiple deleterious effects on individuals, families and all of society.”
Cuomo revealed a plan for legalizing marijuana while unveiling a 2020 budget of $176 billion in January.
The plan estimated legalization would bring in $300 million in revenue annually once it is fully implemented over several years. Sales could start as early as 2020 to people over the age of 21.
Some lawmakers have said more time was needed to address concerns about the plan and they suggested consideration of the program’s approval could be delayed until closer to the end of the legislative session in June.
The Effect on Teens
Among the concerns raised by the conference were “increased teenage and childhood usage (of marijuana), harmful effects on developing brains, addiction, natural progression to harder drug use, increased impairment-related transportation accidents and deaths, and other potential public health and safety issues.”
The 21-year-old age restriction also could easily be skirted, the conference said, pointing to widespread efforts by the alcohol and tobacco industries to market products to young people.
If the program is approved, New York would become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.
Statement from the New York Catholic Conference on Recreational Marijuana
In its rush to legalize so-called “recreational” marijuana usage, we believe that our state’s elected officials are preparing to open a Pandora’s Box that will have multiple deleterious effects on individuals, families, and all of society.
While the Governor and some legislators see enhanced revenues for the state’s coffers through a new taxable marijuana industry, we are more concerned with consequences ranging from increased teenage and childhood usage, harmful effects on developing brains, addiction, natural progression to harder drug use, increased impairment-related transportation accidents and deaths, and other potential public health and safety issues.
Of particular concern regarding the movement toward legalization is the impact on children, and the normalization of usage that state approval encourages. Proponents argue that usage will be restricted to age 21 and older but, as we have seen in the alcohol and tobacco industries, producers of harmful products always find a way to market their products to children.
Studies appear to show racial and ethnic disparities in enforcement of marijuana possession, and we take this issue seriously. The state can and should take appropriate measures to ensure that skin color or zip code do not result in different outcomes for the same offense, including re-evaluating the justice of current criminal penalties for low-level possession. At the same time, we must not simply throw up our hands and legalize a harmful substance in order to declare the problem of discrimination solved.
The Catholic Church is not prohibitionist but at the same time we believe the government should not be encouraging destructive behavior, whether gambling or drug use, to raise revenue. Vice is not an appropriate economic development engine for a state that prides itself as a national progressive leader. Our state motto is Excelsior (ever upward), but policies that exploit addiction instead lead us ever downward.
We join with our state’s medical, education and law enforcement communities in urging New York State to reject marijuana.
The Catholic Conference represents the bishops of New York State in public policy matters.