New York Is Still Trying to Legalize Weed, But Don't Hold Your Breath
Governor Cuomo seems unwilling to support the new bill, and without his backing, its chances of success seem unlikely.
Published on May 16, 2019

Earlier this spring, it seemed almost inevitable that 2019 would be the year New York would finally see the implementataion of adult-use cannabis laws. Governor Andrew Cuomo made legalization one of his top priorities for the beginning of the year, inserting a comprehensive proposal to legalize commercialization in the state's new budget proposal. Sadly, legislators stripped the legalization clause from the budget last month, crushing supporters' hopes that legal weed might be around the corner.

Unwilling to drop the ball, legislators have just launched a new bill modeled on Cuomo's original proposal. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes told Spectrum News that the new bill “mirrors the governor’s proposed cannabis legislation that was in his budget.”

The bill also includes a number of refinements that were suggested during the preliminary attempt to include legalization in the state budget. “We’ve attempted to take all of the negotiated agreements that took place during budget negotiations and expand our bill,” state Senator Liz Krueger, a supporter of the legislation, told WAMC Radio.

Like the original budget proposal, the bill would create a new Office of Cannabis Management to oversee recreational cannabis sales, medical marijuana, and hemp production. Peoples-Stokes told Spectrum that it “made sense” to create one office to oversee all forms of cannabis, as “it's essentially the same plant, it has the same properties.” The bill also would expand the state's limited medical marijuana program, doing away with the current list of 17 qualifying conditions in favor of giving individual doctors the authority to decide whether or not medical cannabis is right for their patients.

The proposal also includes a number of elements aimed at rectifying decades of disproportionately-enforced marijuana prohibition laws. Peoples-Stokes told WAMC that a percentage of all adult-use sales tax revenue “will go towards communities that have been negatively impacted by mass incarceration.” The bill would also seal the criminal records of New Yorkers who have been convicted of misdemeanor cannabis crimes.

Peoples-Stokes is highly optimistic that the legislation will pass the Assembly, but Krueger said that the bill currently does not have enough support to pass the Senate. However, if the bill does move through the Assembly, Krueger said that she “can try to make the case that [Senators] who might have been scared away when it dropped out of the budget should come back to vote for it.” The Senator also publicly called on Governor Cuomo to help raise support for the new bill.

Cuomo has a long history of opposing cannabis reform, however, and only reluctantly backed the current push for legalization under pressure from other contenders in last year's gubernatorial election. But now that he is back in office, and neighboring New Jersey's plans for legalization have been indefinitely delayed, the governor's enthusiasm for legalization has cooled significantly. In a recent radio interview, Cuomo said that he still supports the bill, “but if they are starting to suggest that I need to twist arms, then that’s a bad sign. Because arm twisting doesn’t work. And it means they don’t have the political support.” 

State Senator Diane Savino told Leafly that she thinks the bill “really has no shot. The truth is, there's an awful lot of opposition to it.” As a stopgap measure, legislators have introduced a new bill which would expand the medical marijuana program without legalizing adult-use, which may have a greater chance of success. 

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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