The MTA could tap into a stash of tax money from legal cannabis in New York, NYU’s transit experts said in a report Wednesday.
With officials burning to debate legal recreational pot here, a tax on cannabis could score up to $677 million that could be used to treat the ailing transit system, according to the report from NYU Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management.
“The debate should not be whether we legalize it, the debate should be, how do we spend the money from legalizing cannabis,” Mitchell Moss, director of the NYU transportation center, said.
State health officials studying legal marijuana in New York estimated that it could bring in at most $677 million a year with a 15% tax on retail sales at $374 an ounce, according to a July report.
The illegal market can rack up $3.5 billion a year in sales on 10.2 million ounces, according to the state Department of Health report from this summer.
Legal pot is on the lips of New Yorkers — even Gov. Cuomo, who has suggested it will come to the state as its neighbors adopt it.
New Jersey lawmakers are debating it and it’s now legal in Massachusetts.
Moss also sees an even bigger haul when tourism is factored into the cannabis industry that could come to New York.
“New York cannot afford to let citizens go to New Jersey and Massachusetts to buy cannabis,” Moss said.
Gov. Cuomo’s counsel is leading a working group of health, legal and government experts to draft legislation for an adult-use cannabis program, according to the governor’s spokesman, Peter Ajemian.
“The work group is considering a variety of issues related to regulations and revenues that will be part of any recommendations made to the legislature for review in the upcoming session,” Ajemian said.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is seeking cash as it scrambles to balance its budget, which faces a $1 billion gap in 2022, even with fare and toll hikes.
NYC Transit President Andy Byford has been making his pitch to lawmakers, communities and the business sector on funding mass transit and his ambitious 10-year overhaul plan, called Fast Forward.
Congestion pricing on for-hire cars and taxis starts in January and lawmakers will consider putting a traffic fee for all motorists in Manhattan.
A new tax on wealthy New Yorkers — Mayor de Blasio’s preferred option for transit funding — may also be considered next year.
Regardless, Byford does not express an opinion for how transit gets funded, as long as it’s sustainable and sufficient.
“Most people get that it’s a doomsday scenario if we do not now bite the bullet and fund transit properly,” Byford told a crowd at a Crain’s New York Business breakfast at the New York Athletic Club.
MTA spokesman Shams Tarek did not respond directly to taxing legal pot for the transit system.
“We’re focused on improving service in the short term and completely modernizing the transit system with new infrastructure and better accessibility in the medium and long term,” Tarek said.