How do you pay for New York's infrastructure needs? Former county exec says legalize pot

Feb 1, 2017

How do you pay the bill on New York’s costly infrastructure needs? Legalize marijuana. That’s what a new group of advocates led by former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra is saying.


Giambra has organized a team of lawyers, doctors, educators, and members of the social services community to explain the benefits of legal marijuana to the public.

Joel Giambra
Credit NY Grows

“Our objective is to provide as much information – verifiable, documented information – as possible so that people can then begin to engage their senators, their assemblymen, [and] the governor about this very important topic,” said Giabmra.

The organization, called NY Grows, believes an estimated $600 million in annual revenue from the legalization and regulation of marijuana would best be spent paying for improvements to New York’s infrastructure.

In his 2017 State of the State address, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed numerous upgrades to the state’s infrastructure, including a revamp of drinking and waste water systems and extension of the NFTA Metro Rail from Buffalo to Amherst.

“However, nobody’s figured out yet where the moneys are going to come from,” Giambra pointed out. “So we think this is a logical way to pay for the infrastructure and much, much more by ending what we think is a very, very archaic prohibition policy.”

NY Grows estimates that in addition to revenue from regulation of marijuana, as many as 70,000 jobs could be created within the industry. If the proceeds are invested in infrastructure as the group recommends, they estimate another 30,000 jobs would be generated in the construction trades. Giambra said an economist for NY Grows bases the estimates on statistics from three other states that have already legalized marijuana.

The team that makes up the NY Grows board is a diverse group of people Giambra has worked with over the course of many years. But what drove Giambra to get involved in the push for legalization was his own experience as a cancer survivor.

Giambra underwent treatment for throat cancer in 1999. He said he’s studied medical marijuana for a long time.

“The science is very clear now. The evidence is very clear that there’s a very, very important medicinal aspect of this plant,” Giambra said. “I believe now that if we take it to the next level and take our heads out of the sand and begin to realize that marijuana is readily available just about anywhere in New York State, anywhere in the country if you want it.”

Giambra said, as a parent, he feels it’s more appropriate to take marijuana out of the underground market where children have access to it, and regulate it on the mainstream market – something he said will lead to less abuse of the drug, and a product safe from potentially harmful chemicals and pesticides.

Giambra called prohibition has been an ineffective strategy for handling marijuana, and NY Grows estimates taxpayers will be saved $1.2 billion in criminal justice costs.