New York Cannabis Legalization Advocates Push Cuomo, Democrats

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Members of New York’s pro-cannabis legalization community slammed Governor Andrew Cuomo during a Tuesday press conference outside his office in Albany, saying that the governor shouldn’t walk away from his own adult-use cannabis plan.

A group of the state’s existing medical cannabis industry, social advocacy groups, and attorneys, organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, said Cuomo and others should be held accountable for their promise to pass adult-use legalization through the state budget in the first 100 days of his new term. The legislation, which was included in the governor’s budget proposal, is on thin ice after Cuomo told reporters that there might not be enough time to pass the legislation before the budget is due April 1.

“Our communities have waited long enough,” said Kassandra Frederique, the New York state director for the Alliance. “We were encouraged by the leadership and the governor saying marijuana legalization was a priority …  We are getting close to the end of the 100 days and what we have heard from the governor in the last two weeks has been disappointing and disheartening and has reinforced that our communities are not worth the fight. We have to do it now.”

Other speakers said the war on drugs has led to mothers being stripped of custodial rights, the deportation of undocumented immigrants, and difficulties getting financial aid and access to affordable housing. “Black and brown communities have had entire generations taken away because of a misguided ‘war on drugs’ that conveniently ignored white families. Legalizing marijuana gives us a chance to begin … righting those wrongs,” said Stanley Fritz, of Citizen Action.

State Senator Diane Savino, who has been involved in negotiations with the governor’s office and other lawmakers over the bill, previously told Cannabis Wire that lawmakers in more conservative areas are more likely to endorse legalization by voting for it as a group of budget-related items — but not by itself.   

“There’s absolutely not the votes,” to pass adult-use legalization as a stand-alone bill, she said. “If it’s not in the budget, we can’t pass it this year. And if we can’t pass it in an off election year, we won’t pass it in an election year [next year].”

Those with the Alliance and other groups seemed to recognize the urgency, as New York’s new era of legal adult-use cannabis, which seemed inevitable just weeks ago, seemed to be slipping away. Similarly, Democratic leadership’s endorsement of adult-use cannabis legislation in neighboring New Jersey surprisingly collapsed at the eleventh-hour on Monday.

Cuomo warned earlier this month, “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.”

In an exchange with public radio host Brian Lehrer on Tuesday that was sent out as a transcript by Cuomo’s press office, the governor appeared to soften his position.

Governor Cuomo: I think it’s better to get it done in the budget. Again, the budget is a decision making point that stops dialogue and tends to forge compromise and consensus and if you go past the budget, Brian, then there’s no natural termination point. You can debate, you can argue, you can refine and I think our best shot for getting it done is to get it done in the budget.

Brian Lehrer: You’re making news. This is back in the budget, when you said it had been out of the budget.

Governor Cuomo: No. Let’s be clear, it is on the table and we’re still talking about it. I have not counted the revenue in my budget because —

Brian Lehrer: Right, it’ll take a year to ramp it up anyway, I understand that. But the topic is back in the budget negotiations.

Governor Cuomo: The topic was never off the table. The revenue wasn’t counted, not because of a delay in the revenue but because the legislative leaders said they were unsure that it would be done in the budget and therefore I can’t count revenue on an item that we’re not sure to include, you know I can’t do an MTA financing plan based on MTA marijuana revenue if we haven’t passed a marijuana bill.

With four days remaining before the budget deadline, Cannabis Wire asked Cuomo’s office if negotiations have changed or ramped up.

“The issue of adult-use cannabis has been and continues to be on the table as part of budget negotiations,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s spokesperson Tyrone Stevens told Cannabis Wire. “The Governor is leading the fight for an adult use cannabis program in New York and negotiations with the legislature are ongoing.”

Frederique doubled down on her criticism of Cuomo in a statement and urged him to push for the measure’s immediate passage.

“A failure to legalize marijuana when Democrats control all branches of NY state government is a failure of leadership,” she said. “Governor Cuomo is primarily responsible for stalled negotiations, as he publicly put the brakes on talks for legalizing in the budget only to make contrary statements this week. He has inexplicably undermined his own State of the State announcement and vigorous support for legalization in 2019. After decades of criminalization, communities deserve unceasing negotiations to make legalization a reality in the budget.”

When asked for an update on legalization negotiations, State Senator Diane Savino told Cannabis Wire on Tuesday: “Not hearing anything promising, and the clock is ticking.”

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