Cuomo’s New York Cannabis Legalization Plan Might Stall


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s bid to legalize cannabis in the first 100 days of his new term began to look less likely Monday as the governor told reporters that differences over his cannabis legalization proposal had left little time to reach a consensus before the end of the month, when the state’s budget is due.

“I am no longer confident marijuana will be done by the budget,” Cuomo told reporters, according to the Associated Press. “There is a wide divide on marijuana. I believe ultimately we can get there. I believe we must get there. I don’t believe we get there in two weeks.”

One emerging fissure in the Democrat-controlled state house is the amount of power that Cuomo’s proposal gives the head a new Office of Cannabis Management, including having discretion on where and how to invest cannabis-derived tax revenue.

Key lawmakers doubled down according to a Monday New York Times story, saying that the proposal should be more specific and far-reaching on matters of equity, meaning ensuring enough tax dollars for investments in communities hardest hit by police departments’ selective enforcement of cannabis prohibition.

“They thought we were going to trust that at the end of the day, these communities would be invested in. But that’s not something I want to trust,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes told the Times.

Still, Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire, a deal could be made by the end of the month. “I don’t see why this cannot be accomplished through the budget,” she said.

Senate Finance Committee chair Sen. Liz Krueger also seemed to find Cuomo’s comments overly pessimistic. Krueger told the Buffalo News that she feels “surprisingly good” that cannabis will be legalized as part of the state budget.

Peoples-Stokes has emphasized for months that the state’s legalization effort would have to be forward-looking on issues of equity. She told Cannabis Wire in January that a previously drafted bill she sponsored called the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act is model legislation in terms of providing for community reinvestment. After allocating tax revenue toward public health studies and ensuring an adequate regulatory regime, the bill puts 50% of remaining dollars toward reinvesting in communities, including job training and placement, according to a Drug Policy Alliance analysis of the MRTA.

“The communities that have been devastated have to gain from this,” Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire before Cuomo’s bill was introduced at the beginning of the year. “If not, I look forward to a rigorous negotiation.”

Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie responded to those lambasting Cuomo and New York Democrats for the delay, countering that lawmakers were simply acknowledging that the timeline to pass a wide-ranging cannabis legalization measure may not have been realistic.

“Being honest and saying six weeks may not be enough time to come up with regulations, deal with economic impact on communities and the criminal justice aspects, somehow gets reactions of outrage instead of understanding and acknowledgement of the commitment to get this done,” he wrote.

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