The passage of marijuana legalization by New Jersey voters on Election Day has neighboring New Yorkers wondering when it will be their turn to end cannabis prohibition.
If it's up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, marijuana wil be included in the state's 2021 budget, which would effectively legalize it as soon as April.
On January 6, Cuomo announced "a proposal to legalize and create a comprehensive system to oversee and regulate cannabis in New York as part of the 2021 State of the State. Under the Governor's proposal, a new Office of Cannabis Management would be created to oversee the new adult-use program, as well as the State's existing medical and cannabinoid hemp programs. Additionally, an equitable structure for the adult-use market will be created by offering licensing opportunities and assistance to entrepreneurs in communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. Once fully implemented, legalization is expected to generate more than $300 million in tax revenue."
This followed by one day State Sen. Liz Krueger's reintroduction of her Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act for the fifth time since 2013. Unlike Cuomo's proposal, it allows for homegrow. Another contentious issue is who gets to divy up the revenues. “That is still the sticking point that we have not discussed or resolved," Krueger tells the New York Times. “I think governors always want that.”
She added about Cuomo: “He doesn’t think we should be outlining what the revenue is for and we are committed to a significant chunk of this revenue going to social justice investment in communities hurt the most by the drug war."
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes stated: “Clearly, his tax proposals are all wrong, clearly his social equity proposals are all wrong, so there are a number of things that need to be fixed and if they’re not fixed, we’ll be here next year doing the same thing."
Cuomo has previously said:
• “I think it’s going to be an easier conversation. I think the pressure is going to be on because we’re going to need the money so badly and you have such a gap now.”
• “I think this year it is ripe because the state is going to be desperate for funding - even with Biden, even with the stimulus. Even with everything else, we’re still going to need funding, and it’s also the right policy. I think we’re going to get there this year.”
• "I’ve tried to get it done the last couple years. There are a lot of reasons to get it done, but one of the benefits is it also brings in revenue, and all states - but especially this state - we need revenue and we’re going to be searching the cupboards for revenue. And I think that is going to put marijuana over the top.”
Clearly, Cuomo sees legalization in financial terms: how marijuana taxes and fees can help a state that's suffered terribly during the Covid-19 crisis with 1.1 million cases and 39,000 deaths.
New York Mayor Bill deBlasio added:
"We see it in New Jersey. Now, it's time for New York State to do it. Legalize marijuana the right way."
Like President Joe Biden, Cuomo called marijuana a gateway drug in 2017 before recanting that statement. He demanded New York have a restrictive medical-marijuana program that didn't initially include smoking or edibles. Like many Democrats, the governor has softened his views over the years, especially since Northeast states that border New York - New Jersey, Masschusetts and Vermont - have passed legalization measures.
Empire State NORML's Troy Smith believes Cuomo's plan to include marijuana legalization in the state budget will not happen. He predicts a legalization bill will pass, by hook or by crook, by the end of the spring legislative session in Albany, which means mid-June.
This article was originally posted on November 30, 2020. It has been updated seveeral times.