Less than 24 hours after his gubernatorial rival Cynthia Nixon criticized his ambivalent stance on legal weed, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would immediately begin soliciting public commentary on legalization.
Empire State residents will be able to share their opinions on recreational legalization at fifteen “listening sessions” to be held throughout the state over the next two months. “The purpose of these sessions is to garner input from community members and key stakeholders on the implementation of a regulated marijuana program in New York State,” according to the state's website.
During his first two terms in office, Cuomo opposed comprehensive cannabis reform, and was even spouting the “gateway drug” myth as recently as last year, as Nixon pointed out in this week's debate. This year, however, the governor finally began to shift his stance, challenged by Nixon's vocal support of legalization, along with the reality of impending legalization in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Cuomo subsequently commissioned a report on legalization from the state health department, which came out strongly in favor of recreational weed, and also convened a working group to draft a legalization bill to be introduced next year.
"Community input is critical as we work to draft balanced and comprehensive legislation on a regulated marijuana program in New York," Cuomo said in a statement. "The multi-agency report identified the benefits of a regulated marijuana market, and with these listening sessions we are taking another important step to develop a model program for New York. We look forward to hearing what New Yorkers in every corner of the state have to say."
The first two of these listening sessions will take place next week in Albany and Glens Falls, and additional sessions will be held in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, Newburgh, Binghamton, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Watertown between September 17th and October 11th. Cuomo's Regulated Marijuana Workgroup will consider public input from these meetings while drafting the new legalization bill, which they are planning to introduce in January.
"Input from communities in every region of the state is an essential part of our approach to a regulated marijuana program," Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul added. "With a thoughtful process, New York is moving forward to craft a policy that will ensure continued progress across our state."
The state Assembly is also interested in hearing the public's take on legal weed, and have planned their own hearings to solicit outside opinions on legalization. Four Assembly members, including Crystal Peoples-Stokes — who introduced a legalization bill last year — have planned four public hearings on the topic, which will also be held this fall.