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Covid-19 Could Delay Cannabis Legalization in New York and Mexico

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Mar 27, 2020   
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The effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to be felt around the world in almost every key industry. Within the cannabis sector, major industry events have been canceled and cannabis businesses are awaiting confirmation on whether they can stay open through regional lockdown measures.

One less discussed aspect of the viral disruption is its potential effects on the cannabis legalization movement and related legislative decisions.

New York’s state budget

For several months now, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been championing the state’s budget as an ideal way to pass cannabis legalization measures.

Previous attempts to legalize cannabis through a standalone bill failed last year; state lawmakers instead chose to unite behind less controversial decriminalization measure. Still, the legalization of recreational cannabis is a high priority for the governor, who pledged in his annual state address that he would legalize the drug in 2020 by including it in the state’s budget for the next fiscal year.

But this is an increasingly unlikely inclusion, as lawmakers now must rush to agree crucial Covid-19 relief measures before the budget deadline.

“I don’t believe marijuana is going to be negotiated in this budget in the next few days,” State Senator Liz Krueger, the lead sponsor of the cannabis legalization legislation, told WMHT. “I just don’t see it as realistic.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also told WMHT that he was uncertain of whether cannabis legalization would make it into the budget, but he wouldn’t go so far as to rule it out.

“I can't tell you necessarily what's in, what's out. I think we're all kind of looking at numbers,” Heastie said. “You know, what is the [Medicaid Redesign Team] going to come back with? I think that's kind of where we are. So I can't tell you what's in or out at this point.”

Other state legislatures are facing similar dilemmas. Senate and House lawmakers in Vermont agreed legislation last month that would legalize recreational cannabis in the state, pending a final House vote and the resolution of minor differences between the versions of the bill passed in each chamber.

However, the state legislature has now been temporarily adjourned due to concerns over Covid-19. A skeleton staff of lawmakers in the senate reconvened briefly this week for a vote to bring in Covid-19 emergency response measures, though it remains uncertain when the state legislature might return to full strength.

Mexico’s legalization put in doubt

For several months, the Mexican legislature has been operating under an April 30 deadline handed down by the country’s supreme court, by which time the nation is required to have legalized all forms of cannabis.

In November 2018, the supreme court justices found in favor of two legal challenges to the country’s prohibition on recreational cannabis use, saying that “the effects caused by marijuana do not justify an absolute prohibition on its consumption,” and dubbing the continued prohibition of cannabis as unconstitutional. While originally given a year to implement its adult-use cannabis market, this was later extended to the April 30, 2020, deadline which now faces lawmakers.

However, as a part of contingency measures designed to combat the spread of Covid-19, the Mexican senate is to suspend the majority of its legislative activity indefinitely. The move will likely see the chamber unable to meet the court’s deadline for legalization.

While multiple senate commissions have approved the proposed legalization bill, the legislation still must face a full vote and be approved by the Chamber of Deputies  (Mexico’s lower house) before it can be signed into law by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The senate has asked the judicial power to extend deadlines prescribed to the legislative activities to reflect this suspension, however the supreme court itself also temporarily suspended citing Covid-19 concerns until at least April 19.

New Zealand’s medical cannabis scheme

In New Zealand, the country has been gearing up for its September general election, during which the question of legalizing cannabis would also appear on the ballot. Now speculation is being cast on whether the election, and with it the legalization referendum, may have to be delayed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Preceding the election, New Zealand’s parliament is due to be formally dissolved on August 12, giving Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern less than five months to announce an alternative election date if necessary. The current government opposition, the National Party, has already put its general election campaign on hold in order to offer full support to Arden and her Labour government through its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has asked for the Electoral Commission to brief the nation’s political parties on preparations taken for this election in the event that Covid-19 is still a major health issue in September. The Electoral Commission also holds the power to bring in alternative voting arrangements in the case of an emergency, which, Little says, will be an independent decision to be taken by the commission if deemed appropriate.

New Zealand’s medical cannabis scheme, which was due to launch on April 1, is expected to still proceed as normal. Temporary working arrangements have been put in place in license processing departments as a health precaution, such as not accepting hard-copy license applications, but the nation’s cannabis agency still plans to begin accepting license applications on April 1. It’s understood that license application processing times are expected to be slower than pre-pandemic estimations. 

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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