Governor Andrew Cuomo Proposes Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in New York

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a press conference to discuss Amazon's decision to bring a new corporate location to New York City, November 13, 2018 in New York City. Amazon announced earlier in the day that it has chosen Arlington, Virginia and Long Island City in Queens as the two locations, which will both serve as additional headquarters for the company. Amazon says each location will create 25,000 jobs. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced his push for the full legalization of recreational marijuana in the state of New York next year, which would include legal sales, government regulation and taxes on the drug.

Cuomo said the proposal would help eliminate what he referred to as "two criminal justice systems; one for the wealthy and well-off and one for everyone else" during a speech in Manhattan on Monday.

"And that's going to end," Cuomo said in his address in Manhattan outlining his 2019 legislative priorities. "We must end the needless and unjust convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma and let's legalize the adult use of recreational use of marijuana once and for all."

Cuomo projected that the legalization of pot could generate more than $1.7 billion in sales annually. The governor has had changing views on marijuana, having previously referred to it as a "gateway drug" as recently as 2017.

However, Cuomo ordered the state health department to study the viability of legalizing recreational pot earlier this year, which concluded that the benefits of taxation and regulation outweighed negative factors.

Cuomo's opponent in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, actress Cynthia Nixon, was a strong supporter of the legalization of marijuana and argued that the current laws regarding the drug unfairly target minorities.

Cuomo will be negotiating with a fully Democratic-controlled state legislature in January, which should make his legalization of his proposal easier. New York would join Alaska, Colorado, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Vermont and the District of Columbia in the legalization of recreational pot and would be the second-largest state to do so behind California.

New York's prominence could also sway other states to follow suit. Marijuana currently remains on the federal list of controlled substances, despite its legalization in certain states.

According to the National Cannabis Industry Association, 33 total states -- including the 10 recreational pot states -- have already legalized medical marijuana programs and Cuomo's sudden pro-marijuana stance is late but welcomed.

"The reality is that politicians have lagged behind society's view and they're just now starting to catch up," the association's communications director, Morgan Fox, told NBC News.

Cuomo also proposed to end the cash bail system, which he said -- like current marijuana laws -- unfairly target the poor and minorities.

"A judge should be able to determine the individual's risk of release rather than the individual's access to wealth," the governor said. "And that's why we need to take the cash bail system and end it once and for all."