Drug Reformers Balk at Andrew Cuomo's Marijuana Legalization Plan

Andrew Cuomo (image via Shutterstock) and Start SMART NY supporters

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is on the brink. It started with a report by the state's Attorney General that his office covered up nursing home deaths when Covid-19 tore through New York last March and April.

Cuomo threatened an Assembly person for agreeing with that assessment.

Then, in rapid succession, three women came forward with stories of alleged sexual harassment committed by the governor.

On top of all of this, Cuomo is being criticized by drug-policy reformers who don't like his approach to legalizing marijuana in New York; it's on the legislature's docket this spring.

Cuomo was a latecomer to legalization. As recently as 2017, he called marijuana a "gateway" to hard drugs.

"I support medical marijuana. I don't support recreational marijuana... It's a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there's a lot of proof that that's true. There's two sides to the argument. But, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana."

During that time, Sen. Liz Kruger released the Marijuana Regulation and Taxatiion Act (MRTA), which effectively legalizes marijuana in New York with a strong focus on aiding those who've been most harmed by prohibition. It also includes home grow.

Cuomo countered with his own proposal in 2019, the Cannabis Regualtion and Taxation Act (CRTA), which is viewed as a more moderate version of MRTA. It's included in Cuomo's proposed state budget.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017: "I support medical marijuana. I don't support recreational marijuana."

In 2019, Cuomo hoped to push legalization through the budget but that failed. Consensus could not be reached on MRTA or CRTA and votes were never taken. Last year was a legislative washout, which brings us to this unique moment in time.

As New Jersey moves ahead with legalization voters passed in November and with two other legal states (Massachusetts and Vermont) on its border, New York has no other choice but to regulate and tax cannabis. Plus, like all states, New York could use the money generated by retail sales and licensing.

The problem is Cuomo. He's currently standing in the way of the legalization people want it. The biggest problem with cannabis regulation so far is large companies are allowed to buy up licenses, leavng smaller companies in the dust. Currently, POC ownerhip in the cannabis industry is less than 10%.

Marijuana legalizatiion is not like most laws. It has a long legal history that began with federal prohibition in 1937. Americans have been living with this archaic law for more than eight decades. During all those years, an illicit industry sprung up to cater to cannabis consumers. It's this so-called "black market" that now wants a piece of the legal action. It makes total sense.

But not to Cuomo. He went back to the drawing board and released amendments to CRTA on February 16, issuing this statement:

"We know that you cannot overcome a problem without first admitting there is one. Our comprehensive approach to legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provides the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also enables us to directly support the communities most impacted by the War on Drugs by creating equity and jobs at every level, in every community in our great state."

Cuomo's proposed $100 million social equity fund would provide grants and other community services. But reformers were unimpressed and continue to push for MRTA.

Considering Cuomo's dwindling support in Albany, it'll be unlikely that legalization will pass through the budget by the April 1 deadline. New York legislators have until June to agree on a compromise bill that incorporates the best of MRTA and CTRA. 


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.