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By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday pledged for the second year in a row to legalize recreational marijuana, looking for his state to become the nation's 12th to do so and saying that it could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
Cuomo, a Democrat, made the legalization of cannabis a key priority as he outlined his agenda for 2020, saying taxes imposed by a regulatory scheme could bring some $300 million into the state's coffers and confront injustices in enforcement of drug laws.
"For decades, communities of color were disproportionately affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws. Last year we righted that injustice when we decriminalized possession," Cuomo said in his annual State of the State address, according to a transcript of the speech released by his office.
"This year let's work with our neighbors New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, to coordinate a safe and fair system and let's legalize adult use of marijuana," Cuomo said.
Last year, in his 2019 State of the State speech, Cuomo had also declared his intention to legalize marijuana, citing the potential revenues and harm to poorer communities, but the effort foundered in the Democrat-controlled state legislature.
In addition to the 11 states where recreational use of marijuana is already legalized, New York joins several others expected to make that push in 2020, including neighboring New Jersey, which tried and failed to pass such a bill last year.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law and critics say legalization at the state level is bad health policy, citing studies which show that the drug can be addictive and affect brain development in young people, in addition to the dangers associated with any kind of smoking.
Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that vitamin E acetate, a cutting agent used in marijuana vape cartridges, may play a role in an outbreak of vaping-related lung injuries.
Cuomo in his State of the State speech boasted that New York had "led the way" in banning flavored vaping and urged passage of laws restricting the sale and advertisement of flavored e-cigarettes.
"After all the millions of lives lost, big tobacco has come back to life in a different wrapper. They are now in vaping products. We know well the danger of nicotine addiction and we don't yet know the dangers of vaping, but young Americans are dying to find out," Cuomo said in his speech.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Leslie Adler)