A marijuana tax could help fix New York's crumbling subway system

To fund costly repairs to the rapidly crumbling subway system, some New York state and city leaders are talking about legalizing recreational marijuana to collect sales tax that would be dedicated to the transit agency,The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The leaders are looking at the issue following the legalization efforts just across the river in New Jersey and more north in Massachusetts.

“The legalization of recreational cannabis offers New York State a unique opportunity to generate a new revenue stream dedicated to mass transit,” according to a new report from NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy, released Wednesday.

Unfortunately, the researchers say increased fares and congestion pricing alone are not enough to cure the state’s transportation deficit.

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Downstate, the idea has found fans in the New York City Council. “The biggest issue we hear about as elected officials is the state of the subway system,” council speaker Corey Johnson told the NYTimes. “To be able to tie these things together is something that could be highly impactful and potentially transformative.”

While no formal laws have yet been filed on a local or state level, marijuana has been decriminalized in New York City since May. Governor Andrew Cuomo – who once called it a “gateway drug” – has said a bill was being drafted. Medical cannabis is already legal across the state, with dispensaries like MedMen popping up next to luxury retailers on Fifth Avenue.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – a state agency which is responsible for the subway as well as buses, commuter rail, bridges, and tunnels – desperately needs the funding. Officials have said they need an additional $US40 billion to replace century-old signal equipment and install modern communications infrastructure.

For now, the agency has resorted to anything it can do to increase revenue, starting with fare enforcement. Turnstile jumping cost the agency $US215 million in revenue this year alone, officials estimate. Now, New York City Transit President Andy Byford told the New York Post it will station staff near subway entrances to physically block would be fare-beaters.

But there’s still a large gap between the lost revenue and what’s needed to modernise the system.

“When combined with fees to be imposed on for hire car services and taxis, proposed congestion pricing plans, and higher fares, the cannabis tax would provide a way for the MTA to address many of their operating and capital requirements,” the NYU researchers said.

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