Three Northeast Governors Announce Cannabis Legalization Plans

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On Wednesday, three governors made major cannabis announcements, signaling that a number of northeast states could legalize in tandem, and soon. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced at a news conference a “joint state partnership” where they will work together on a “regional approach” toward legalization on a “timely basis,” and the possibility of working with elected officials in states like New Jersey and Rhode Island “and beyond.” The governors also announced a gubernatorial summit with other colleagues slated for October 17. 

Cuomo said that he was “excited about the relationship with not just the state but with Governor Lamont,” adding that, when it comes to legalization, the Connecticut governor is “willing to take the risk and take the chance to make change, which many elected officials are not willing to do.” 

“We don’t want to give up marijuana to the black market. We’ve seen how dangerous that can be,” Lamont said. 

The “regional approach” could be an important tool for cannabis regulation in the northeast, where tiny states are packed together and a day trip could take someone across a half dozen state borders.

“It makes no sense to pass one set of rules when they can just drive across the border to Connecticut to have a different set of rules and vice versa,” Cuomo said, referencing rules related to age restrictions, THC content, taxes, product types, and enforcement. “In concept, many people agree on the legalization of recreational marijuana, but like in many cases, the devil’s going to be in the details. And how you do it will determine the success of the program. And doing that collectively and regionally makes sense.”

Cuomo tried and failed to pass legalization through New York’s budget this past spring, and while Cuomo and lawmakers pushed for legalization during the regulator session, they couldn’t come together on a bill before the session ended. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of New York’s efforts.) 

Cuomo also expressed concern about federal regulators’ lack of action on the issue of vape-related illnesses, which continue to climb. Neighboring state Massachusetts Tuesday became the first state to ban all vapes, including cannabis, for four months. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of that move, and the reactions to the vaping crisis from regulators in states where cannabis is legal.)

(Also on Wednesday, Food and Drug Administration officials spoke before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce for a hearing called “Sounding the Alarm: The Public Health Threats of E-Cigarettes.”)

“The federal government is doing nothing, what can we do? And what can we do together because it makes no sense to pass one set of rules when they can just drive across the border to Connecticut to have a different set of rules and vice versa,” Cuomo said. 

During a separate news conference later on Wednesday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe called for legalization. This decision was made after Lt. Gov. John Fetterman went on a listening tour of all 67 counties to “hear from Pennsylvanians about whether or not they support the legalization.” Wolfe and Fetterman released a report that contained key findings from the tour, including a county-by-county breakdown of support and opposition to legalization. 

“We’ve heard you, and this announcement today is our earnest effort to bring about the changes you’ve told us you want,” Fetterman said. 

Wolfe and Fetterman announced three actions for the General Assembly: pass legislation to decriminalize non-violent, minor cannabis offenses; create a structure for “restorative justice” through expungement; and for the legislature to “seriously debate and consider the legalization of adult-use, recreational marijuana.” 

Wolf also addressed the vape-related illnesses, which have sickened hundreds and are believed to be directly linked to 10 deaths. 

“The current controversy on vapes” is a reason for legalization, not against it, Wolf argued, because with legalization comes more supply chain transparency and tighter regulation.

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