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Think Tank: Marijuana Tax Could Pay For Subway Overhaul

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It's a smokin' way to raise the funds to fix the subways -- legalize marijuana and tax it to the max.

It's the "tune in, turn on" solution proposed by a New York University think tank and it's getting high marks from local politicians, CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported Thursday.

Can puff the magic dragon save the New York City subways?

NYU Professor Mitchell Moss says legalizing and taxing marijuana could be the pot-of-gold solution lawmakers have been searching for to raise money for mass transit.

"The great advantage of the legalization of cannabis is that it's a new revenue stream. It is not going to take money from other services and you can dedicate it to mass transit for as long as you need it," Moss said.

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NYC subway/marijuana
New York City Subway train (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images); A marijuana plant (Photo by Don MacKinnon/AFP)

In a new report, Moss points out that New Yorkers already smoke lots of weed, spending as much as $3.5 billion a year on the black market.

Making it legal and taxing it could bring in millions -- Moss estimates $750 million and up. And it could go even higher, over $1 billion a year, if the city is able to cash in on the tourist trade.

"We know that tourists will come here to purchase cannabis. We know that because in Amsterdam there are planes every day that come just for people to do that," Moss said.

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The report comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo is searching for ways to fund the fast-forward plan to fix subway and bus service. And with congestion pricing still a heavy lift for many lawmakers, a marijuana tax could give politicians a choice.

"Some of them would rather tax cannabis, which does relieve pain, than impose a congestion pricing fee, which is painful," Moss said.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is high on the idea, but said mass transit needs are so great the Legislature may need to tax grass and do congestion pricing.

"I am a full-throttled supporter of doing this," Johnson said. "We're going to need multiple revenue streams to be able to fully fund the MTA."

Newly elected senator Alessandra Biaggi agrees.

"People are going to sell marijuana anyway, so why would we not be benefiting from it? So I think it's just a no-brainer," Biaggi said.

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CBS2's Kramer asked New Yorkers if congestion pricing or a tax on marijuana is the best way to raise money to fix the subways.

"Wow, I think probably the tax of marijuana," said Darrell Wyatt of the Bronx. "Why not pull from there instead of pulling from taxpayers who don't have that much money?"

Others agreed, taxing grass may be the best way to go.

So when lawmakers return to Albany in January they may find it's high time for a maryjane tax. A spokesman for Gov. Cuomo said he has a working group considering legalizing and taxing marijuana and that its recommendations would be forwarded to the Legislature.


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