Could New York Legalize Cannabis This Summer?
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Cannabis legalization advocates and pro-cannabis legislators in New York remain hopeful that lawmakers in the state will be able to work through their differences and agree on a deal to legalize recreational cannabis use before the end of 2019. But time is beginning to run out.
New York’s Democratic Governor, Andrew Cuomo, initially wanted a cannabis legalization provision to be included in the state budget, but continued disagreements over the details of such legalization measures saw the provision dropped as pressure mounted to get the budget passed by the April 1 deadline.
With the 2019 legislative session drawing to a close in New York on June 19, pro-cannabis lawmakers have just one month to drum up enough support from political opponents to get legislation agreed and passed, or else the issue may remain unsettled for another year.
New legal cannabis bill introduced following budget talks
After cannabis legalization was left out of the state budget, pro-cannabis lawmakers set about drafting new legislation. Lawmakers have now announced plans to introduce a new bill in the state legislature that they believe stands a better chance at getting passed, and getting recreational cannabis legalized this year.
Senator Liz Krueger, a Democratic member of the New York State Senate, and the primary sponsor of the Senate bill, explained to WAMC Northeast Public Radio, “We’ve attempted to take all of the negotiated agreements that took place during budget negotiations and expand our bill [accordingly].”
The sponsor of the companion bill in the State House, Democratic majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, says the bill contains a comprehensive plan to legalize cannabis, while also preserving the core principles that were discussed previously.
“I am working on amending the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act to incorporate many aspects of Governor Cuomo’s [budget] proposal, including having one regulatory body overseeing medical marijuana, hemp extracts, and adult-use cannabis,” said assembly member Peoples-Stokes.
She added that the plan would include “equity in the industry, permitting individuals to grow cannabis for personal use, and addressing past criminal convictions,” all items that were considered for the legalization provision that was to go in the state budget.
The new plan includes public health benefits, such as further funding for research and drug treatment programs. There is also a new social equity provision, that would see a portion of tax revenue raised by legal cannabis sales being re-invested in communities that have been detrimentally impacted by cannabis prohibition and the resultant mass incarceration.
Is there a chance this bill might get passed?
Right now, Senator Kruger does not believe that there are enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill, but thinks that this could change if the assembly were to approve the measure first.
“And then I can try to make the case that people who might have been scared away when it dropped out of the budget should come back to vote for it,” she added.
Additionally, she is also seeking public backing from Governor Cuomo in order to help convince Senators who might still be on the fence.
Governor Cuomo recently did an interview on the radio program Connections with Evan Dawson, hosted on the Rochester public radio station WXXI News. In the interview, Cuomo addressed these calls for his support, saying that while he does support the legalization of recreational marijuana, “if they are starting to suggest that I need to twist arms, then that’s bad sign.”
He continued, “Because arm twisting doesn’t work. And it means they don’t have the political support.”
Cuomo himself has only recently adopted this stance on recreational cannabis. In 2017, he was labelling cannabis as a “gateway drug” and telling reporters that he did not support recreational cannabis reform. His present support for recreational marijuana has been called an 11th hour move, done in order to defeat primary challenger Cynthia Nixon in the 2018 New York gubernatorial race. Still, since committing to legalizing recreational cannabis, he has taken action to form a working group with the mission of drafting a cannabis legalization bill, and commissioned the state’s Department of Health to investigate the benefits of cannabis legalization.
Without further endorsement from the Governor, the future of the bill becomes uncertain. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), revealed to reporters on Wednesday that her conference had yet to discuss the new proposal, which still has to be formally introduced.
“The conversations about marijuana ... are ongoing, and like I said, I don’t know that we will have a resolution by the end of session,” she said.
Expansion of the state medical marijuana program
The new bill also includes a section that would give doctors more power in deciding which patients can access the state medical marijuana program. Currently, patients have to be diagnosed with at least one of seventeen specific conditions in order to qualify for medical marijuana treatment, but the new bill would remove this requirement.
Senator Kruger has said that passing this medical marijuana expansion might be achievable as a separate bill, where it would not be tied to the legalization of recreational cannabis. But in order for the expansion to work optimally, she believes that the two actions need to be taken together.
“It’s economically unrealistic,” she said, in reference to standalone medical marijuana expansion. Kruger says that legalization of recreational cannabis will provide an incentive for cannabis producers to generate higher volumes of cannabis material, which would bring down the cost price of the drug for medicinal users.
Kruger also added that if lawmakers adjourn before approving recreational cannabis legalization, then she believes they will have all “flunked the assignment.”