Dec. 6, 2018 By Laura Hanrahan
As a growing number of state and city leaders support the legalization of recreational marijuana, another New York City political figure has now released a plan to direct some of the potential tax revenue from legalization into the city’s crumbling subway infrastructure.
Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former city council speaker who is now running for the office of public advocate, announced her “Weed for Rails” plan today, which calls for a set of actions that would funnel legalized marijuana revenue to the MTA’s capital program.
The public advocate candidate slammed the current state of the subway system in her announcement, calling it a broken system in crisis.
“Every day when I take the subway, all I can think is: Please let the train be running. Please don’t stop in between stations. Please don’t skip my stop,” she said in a statement. “We deserve leaders who tells them the truth. And the truth is the city’s transportation system is broken—and the governor and the mayor won’t stop pointing fingers for long enough to fix it.”
Mark-Viverito, who has supported the legalization of recreational marijuana since 2014, estimates that New York could generate as much as $1.3 billion each year in tax revenue under her plan.
The “Weed for Rails” program first calls for the continued advocacy of marijuana legalization, which Mark-Viverito says she will do by submitting a memorandum of support once elected to public advocate, among other actions.
She also pledged to advocate for a “lockbox” provision in state legalization legislation that would ensure that no less than half of the billions in generated marijuana tax revenue would be dedicated to public transit.
Her plan also called for expunging the criminal convictions of the thousands of people across the state arrested for using the drug recreationally. Any bill that legalizes marijuana use, she said, must include these provisions.
New York City’s subway system has the worst on-time performance of any major rapid transit system in the world, according to a November 2017 report from the New York Times.
The use of marijuana tax revenue to address the laundry list of problems with public transportation has been informally supported by other local politicians, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
A recent report published by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management also supported the use of marijuana tax revenue for transportation improvements.
With Democrats now in control of the State Legislature in Albany, the likelihood of legalizing recreational marijuana has improved.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who previously opposed legalization and called marijuana a gateway drug, recently announced that a legalization bill was being drafted and would likely be brought forward during next year’s legislative session.
With the MTA estimating a subway modernization price tag to be around $40 billion, Mark-Viverito is also supporting other tax revenue options such as congestion pricing.
Given the lengthy timeline to implement congestion pricing, however, she believes Weed for Rails is the best choice to generate revenue in the short-term.
If elected, Mark-Viverito plans to immediately demand that the Governor and state lawmakers pass a legalization bill in 2019.