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New York Is Working to Draft a Marijuana Legalization Bill

Responding to recommendations from the Department of Health and pressure from political competitors, Governor Cuomo is now preparing legislation for legal weed in the Empire State.

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo may actually bring cannabis legalization to the Empire State in 2019. On Thursday, Gov. Cuomo’s office took the first steps towards facilitating major marijuana reform, appointing a 20-person workgroup to draft legislation for an adult-use market. 

Comprised of health officials, law enforcement leaders, the state budget director, public policy experts, and others, the Governor’s chosen team will work from recent recommendations made by the NY Department of Health to craft a regulated recreational cannabis industry — one  focused not only on green rush profits, but social justice, too. 

"I have reviewed the multi-agency report commissioned last January and have discussed its findings with Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker," Governor Cuomo said in a press release announcing the workgroup. "The next steps must be taken thoughtfully and deliberately. As we work to implement the report's recommendations through legislation, we must thoroughly consider all aspects of a regulated marijuana program, including its impact on public health, criminal justice, and State revenue, and mitigate any potential risks associated with it. I thank the members of the workgroup for their time and expertise as we work to craft a model program."

Governor Cuomo has overseen the implementation and subsequent expansion of New York’s still-burgeoning medical marijuana industry and has previously advocated for pot policing reform. But as recently as last year, the Democratic Governor called cannabis a “gateway drug” and said that he was “unconvinced on recreational marijuana.”

“It’s a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there’s a lot of proof that that’s true,” Cuomo told Politico in 2017. “There’s two sides to the argument.”

Over the last year, though, cannabis reform has become a hot button topic in the Empire State, as New York City police data continually reports drastic racial biases in marijuana policing, with 9 out of 10 possession arrests targeting people of color. At the same time, Gov. Cuomo’s Democratic gubernatorial challengers, most notably former Sex & the City star Cynthia Nixon, have turned legalization into a central campaign promise.

While Gov. Cuomo claims to have had a change of heart since his “gateway” comments, and has now seemingly thrown his support behind total legalization — conveniently just before the upcoming elections — cannabis advocates who have been fighting against New York’s selective prohibition enforcement for years believe the heel turn is long overdue.

“We are pleased that the Governor has studied the existing evidence and data presented in the Department of Health report and accurately concluded that legalizing marijuana for adult-use is the right choice for New York,” Chris Alexander, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement to Marijuana Moment. “Marijuana prohibition has devastated our communities, saddled hundreds of thousands with criminal records, acted as an easily accessible tool for racially-biased policing, and stunted the opportunities for entire generations of mostly New Yorker’s of color.”

If all goes according to the Governor’s new plan, the New York state legislature will vote on cannabis legalization before the end of 2019.

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