The MTA is notoriously broken, and the debate around how to fix the problem has congealed into an echo-chamber of anti-union sentiment with little hope of escape. While the everyman whines that transit employees aren’t working hard enough, virtually nothing is being done on the local or state level to finance adequate solutions. Because of this, our city can hope only to play perpetual catch-up on long-needed repairs. Yet, this pace begs the question: what if another Sandy were to occur? There’s no doubt that government officials would be scrambling to scrape together even the barest of funds to get the F train moving but a station’s distance.
That said, it’s clear that those responsible for allocating MTA repair funds need to think creatively about their sourcing. There simply isn’t enough money flowing that rearrangements can repair a strained subway system. Instead, the discovery of new revenue streams is essential. One option for a significant boost in tax dollars (that happens to be vastly overlooked) is the legalization of marijuana.
According to MTA analysis from 2017, the system’s current state would require $8 billion to fund repairs. $3 billion of that total would go exclusively to replacing the aging signal switches — one of the most common causes of delays. An astronomical amount, certainly, but a meager fraction of the city’s total $85 billion yearly budget — particularly when considering how many New York City residents rely on the service each minute of each day.
New York could expect up to $1.4 billion in marijuana sales in its first year alone.
With those numbers in mind, consider the potential tax revenue from legal marijuana. In 2016, Colorado’s legal weed industry raked in $200 million. In Washington, that number was $168 million. These states are but in their early years of exploring the booming industry and adapting cannabis as part of the state’s economic culture. In New York, those numbers would undoubtedly be far higher due to population density. Numbers crunched by Forbes in 2016 suggest that New York could expect up to $1.4 billion in marijuana sales in its first year alone.
There is a sense of fear around legalizing weed in New York City that is not present in other major metropolises. likely due to the sheer population density. With more than 26,500 individuals per square mile in the five boroughs, one can’t help but clutch their pearls at the thought of schoolchildren walking home past a dispensary, or a peculiar skunky scent lingering in the air over the entirety of Lower Manhattan.
We are inching towards a marijuana-friendly future without allowing our infrastructure to reap the multitude of benefits in the process.
There is no denying that legalizing weed in New York City would instigate a greater social experiment than it has elsewhere in the United States. Yet at the same time, there is perhaps nowhere else in the country where the tax revenue could be used for a more acute and immediate purpose. Though other organizations may wish to dip their toes in such a lush pot of tax revenue, there is a precedent for specific vice taxes, such as revenue from lottery tickets, benefitting highly specific causes. Creating flexible legislation dictating the use of this tax revenue for MTA purposes is not likely to be an overly-complicated matter, and it certainly is difficult to imagine the MTA no longer in need of a consistent revenue stream.
The country-wide legalization of marijuana is an inevitable reality. Even in New York City, an individual can transport up to an ounce of the plant without facing legal consequences beyond a fine. For those less botanically inclined, an ounce is a hefty portion — and also the legal limit of possession in certain states where marijuana is completely recreationally legal, such as Vermont. We are inching towards a marijuana-friendly future without allowing our infrastructure to reap the multitude of benefits in the process.
It is true that, in order for the MTA of our dreams to manifest, other large-scale infrastructural changes would need to be legislated into effect. There are many ways our public transit system could become more efficient in addition to simply being fixed. With that said, a city cannot hope to create accessible, on-time, clean, and modernized public transit if it cannot begin to afford the most basic and necessary repairs to a horrifically outdated system. New York City has an opportunity awaiting them in the form of legal marijuana, and a wealth of precedent to use as legislative guidance. Until this opportunity is seized, we will all continue experiencing the horrible irony that, in order to have a pleasant commute on New York City’s MTA, one must be high in the first place.