For the third year in a row, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has included a plan to legalize cannabis sales and use in the Empire State's annual budget proposal. The previous two years' efforts were shot down due to the pandemic and by conservative lawmakers, but the governor is hopeful that this third time will be the charm.
At his State of the State address last week, Cuomo emphasized the importance of legalization as a means to end the racially unequal enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws as well as providing a much-needed economic boost. The new budget proposal also includes provisions to help boost the state's existing hemp industry.
“We will legalize adult-use recreational cannabis, joining 15 other states who’ve already done so,” the governor said, according to WENY News. “This will raise revenue and will end the over-criminalization of this product that has left so many communities of color over-policed and over-incarcerated.”
Cuomo was only able to provide a brief outline of his cannabis legalization plans last week, but the full details of the proposal are being released with the final budget proposal. The proposed budget includes $350 million to establish an Office of Cannabis Management to oversee retail sales regulations and business licensing. The governor has also set aside $100 million for a social equity fund to reinvest in communities most heavily impacted by the War on Drugs.
According to the governor's office, the new program would strive to create “robust social and economic equity benefits to ensure New York’s law will create an egalitarian adult-use market structure that does not just facilitate market entry but ensures sustained market share for entrepreneurs in communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition,” Marijuana Moment reports.
More specifically, the program will “correct past harms by investing in areas that have disproportionately been impacted by the war on drugs, understanding that expunging past cannabis convictions helps to correct the injustice faced on the day that someone was arrested, but fails to correct the lasting harms that arrest has had on citizens, families, and communities.”
The new budget also relies on cannabis sales tax revenue to help fill the state's $4 billion budget gap. According to the governor's outline of the program, a legal pot industry would boost the state's economy by an estimated $3.5 billion and create 60,000 jobs. By the time the retail market is fully up and running, the state expects to see as much as $300 million a year in pot tax revenue.
Cannabis advocates have warned about the dangers of setting weed taxes too high, though. “We definitely want to make sure that taxes are not so prohibitive that it pushes the market back underground,” said National Cannabis Industry Association CEO Aaron Smith to FOX Business. “I hope that we can come to a place where it’s taxed in a manner that it’s somewhat similar to alcohol.”
This new budget proposal will mark Cuomo's third annual attempt to legalize pot. But although the last two attempts failed, advocates believe that 2021 may finally be the year that New York goes green. New Jersey will begin selling adult-use cannabis this year, and lawmakers want to ensure that New Yorkers will spend their hard-earned cash on local weed businesses.
The state legislature was instrumental in shutting down the previous two years' legalization proposals, but again, this year is looking different. Last December, the state Assembly's top Republican lawmaker said he was confident that New York would legalize pot this year, and Democrats now have a supermajority in the state Senate, giving them the authority to override any potential vetoes from the governor.