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N.Y. Lawmakers Propose Legalizing Marijuana, Making It Into A Cash Cow

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There was a move Tuesday to legalize -- and tax -- marijuana use in New York.

State lawmakers want to put pot smoking on a par with drinking alcohol and let taxpayers profit, CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported

Just call it taking the "high" road. State lawmakers plan on introducing a bill that would legalize pot smoking and turn it into a cash cow.

Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) signed onto a bill by state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) that would make New York the most populous state in the country to regulate and tax marijuana for general use.

"We really need to move beyond our totally broken prohibition model to a sensible tax and regulate model," Gottfried said. "I think it's widely recognized that marijuana is at most nowhere near as potentially harmful as alcohol and our law is dishonest."

Gottfried said state lawmakers want to treat pot smoking just like having a drink, set an age limit, regulate it, and tax it. City Comptroller John Liu, who has studied the issue, said the economic impact from a pot tax is, well, mind-binding.

"We have close to a million people who use it on a regular basis. It's a market of $1.65 billion here in New York City every year, so it makes sense, seeing as so many people are using it on a regular basis, to decriminalize it," Liu said.

Liu estimates that a pot tax would generate $431 million in New York City alone:

* $69 million would go to the state and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the form of higher sales taxes

* The city would also save $31 million from reduced law enforcement and court costs

"There's unfair enforcement, particularly against minorities and minority youth, and also people are using it. The medical experts say it is not as dangerous as alcohol. Marijuana does not get people into a violent state whereas, unfortunately, alcohol does," Liu said.

Addiction experts disagree.

"Marijuana is a dangerous drug," said Dr. Harris Stratyner of Carron Treatment Centers. "Why would we want to make a dangerous drug available to the public? Now, I know a lot of people will disagree with me and say alcohol is more dangerous. Alcohol is the most dangerous, but that doesn't mean we should put another dangerous drug on the market."

Supporters of the bill point out that since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office there have been nearly 460,000 misdemeanor marijuana arrests, largely members of the black and Hispanic communities. Comptroller Liu said that minorities represent less than half the pot users in the city, but 86 percent of the arrests.

Several New Yorkers welcomed the idea, CBS 2's Jessica Schneider reported.

"I don't smoke marijuana myself, but people have fun with it.  There are worse things in the world that we should be worrying about," said Maurice Glover, of Harlem.

"I think it's not as bad as liquor.  It doesn't have the affect that liquor has," Hells Kitchen resident Cassandra Sanchez said.

Others told Schneider they want to keep it off the streets. "I'm a mother and a grandmother and I say no," Long Island residents Gertrude Alonzo said.

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