Adult Use Cannabis Legalization Bill Officially Dead

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Legalization in New York always seems to run out of time.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s effort to legalize cannabis through the budget ran out the clock in April. And yesterday, as the last day of the session drew to a close, so too did lawmakers’ efforts to legalize by legislature. And while Democrats control both chambers, the Senate never had enough votes to pass the bill.

“I said from the beginning of this session that I believed marijuana legalization had the best chance of being passed in this year’s budget. Today, the Senate confirmed that it does not have the votes to move forward with legalization,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes was one of the most vocal supporters of legalization, and pushed particularly hard for guaranteed equity provisions for individuals and communities disproportionately affected by the enforcement of cannabis laws.

“We only get to legalize adult-use one time and we have to get it done right the first time. Unfortunately, an agreement could not be reached,” Peoples-Stokes said in a statement to Cannabis Wire, adding that she now aims to give some “hope and relief” to her constituency by passing expungement legislation.

While legalization failed this year, the discussion and debate along the way significantly shifted the conversation, and has brought adult use sales in the state several steps closer to reality.

“The fight for full marijuana justice is not over. Over the past year, the consciousness and awareness has been raised among many New Yorkers and elected leaders across the State. I believe my efforts to get the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act done will continue to gain support,” Peoples-Stokes continued.

Sen. Liz Krueger echoed a similar sentiment after the legalization bill sputtered to defeat Wednesday. “It is clear now that MRTA is not going to pass this session. This is not the end of the road, it is only a delay. Unfortunately, that delay means countless more New Yorkers will have their lives up-ended by unnecessary and racially disparate enforcement measures before we inevitably legalize,” Krueger said in a statement.

“Through months of negotiation and conversation with the Governor’s office and my legislative colleagues, we made great strides to improve our bill and bring more people on board. We came very close to crossing the finish line, but we ran out of time.”

Registered operators in New York’s medical cannabis industry expressed mixed reactions to the failure to legalize this session, but shared hope for future reforms.

“We are disappointed,” Howard Schacter, vice president of communications for Acreage Holdings, told Cannabis Wire. “But we’re proud to have stood arm in arm with advocates, labor, and patients to fight for what’s right. We applaud Liz Krueger, Crystal Peoples Stokes and other champions for all their efforts and those to come in building the best adult-use and medical cannabis program for New Yorkers.”

Etain’s chief operating officer Hillary Peckham told Cannabis Wire that, for their company, “it made sense to address all aspects and programs regarding cannabis under one comprehensive bill: legalization, medical, hemp and decriminalization.” She hopes that “expansion of the medical program will continue to be a priority for the legislature,” and that “they don’t give up on the concept of creating a central Office of Cannabis Management that could serve as a central regulating body for any cannabis programs.”

Michelle Bodner, the regional manager of Curaleaf in New York and Florida, also told Cannabis Wire she was let down by the failed effort, but “optimistic” that lawmakers would “help patients by lowering costs and improving access to medical cannabis.”

So now what? Even with adult use off the table, there is hope, as these cannabis businesses and lawmakers have expressed, for action on legislation that addresses things like decriminalization and medical cannabis program expansion. In a conversation with Cannabis Wire earlier this month, Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo said she was ready with standalone legislation to regulate CBD, should this broader effort fail.

Cuomo specifically indicated in his statement that he was prepared to streamline the process to pass, at least, decriminalization.  

“I understand the desire to end session today as planned, and will give the legislature a message of necessity to expedite passage if required. This legislative proposal is not new,” Cuomo said.

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