Northeast states are trying something new: creating a consensus on cannabis legalization and regulation, as a group.
Governors, lawmakers, and regulators from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Colorado met in midtown Manhattan to debate—and, they hope, agree upon—cannabis policies, from legalization to vaping.
This summit comes after New York and New Jersey lawmakers tried and failed to legalize through their respective legislatures earlier this year. And Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf last month called on lawmakers in his state to seriously consider legalization; state senators this week did just that, and introduced a legalization bill, the second introduced since Wolf’s announcement.
In short, there will be a domino effect in the northeast when it comes to legalization. But while “there is a desire to do this,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a news conference at the start of the Regional Cannabis Regulation and Vaping Summit Thursday, “the devil is in the details. It can be a positive if done right, negative if done incorrectly.”
“This issue is complicated, controversial, and consequential. It is probably one of the most challenging I’ve had to address in New York, and it’s a challenge for all the states,” Cuomo continued.
With so many small states clustered together, legal cannabis is just a short drive away for residents of states that don’t have legalized cannabis. As Cannabis Wire has reported in our daily newsletter, plenty of cars from New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey have been spotted at legal cannabis retail shops in Massachusetts.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said he took a fishing trip with Cuomo to discuss policies that could be better implemented in concert, from cyber security to cannabis.
“This patchwork quilt of regulations makes no sense at all,” Lamont said at the summit. “My state of Connecticut, people cross the border. They drive up to Massachusetts where they buy some cannabis and bring it back, and that makes a real problem for our state police.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told Cannabis Wire, and a small group of journalists, “The more coordinated and harmonious we can be, the better off we’ll all individually be. Obviously, we’d keep our own legislative reality. Your executive order authority is your own, but I’m optimistic we can do this in a way—this being both vaping and adult use of recreational marijuana—in a coordinated way.”
Could a multi-state effort push New Jersey past their political log jam on legalization? “Perhaps, to be determined,” Murphy responded. “We worked hard in the month of March. One of our chambers had enough votes. The other came close,” he said. “Whether or not a multistate effort moves some of those votes, I’m not sure. But, at the end of the day, if we can do it in a coordinated way, it will be good for all of us.”
Panelists for discussions included, in addition to the governors, Connecticut Senator Mary Abrams, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Carl Heastie, Speaker of the New York State Assembly.
“The goal of this summit is to collaborate with one another, share resources and think collectively as we all try to figure this out. The federal government is supposed to get involved in issues that go beyond one state’s borders, but that is not happening on any issue facing the country. The states are on our own, so we are working together to find regionally coordinated solutions to protect the public health,” Cuomo added.
It should be noted that home grown cannabis did not come up during the news conference.
After a news conference, state leaders broke off into group discussions, which included the following panels:
• Vaping and related issues, with New Jersey taking the lead.
• Public health consequences of cannabis and vaping, with New York taking the lead.
• Market regulation and social justice issues related to legalization, with Pennsylvania taking the lead.
• Public safety issues, with Connecticut taking the lead
• Best practices and lessons learned, with Colorado taking the lead.
The patchwork of state cannabis laws extends to rules for everything from tax rates and revenue allocation to THC thresholds for driving impairment. State leaders in the northeast hope to change that, and have already agreed on a shared set of policies, including cannabis tax structures and “best practices to ensure that disproportionately impacted communities from the war on drugs have access to the new industry.”
Within these guidelines, the state leaders specifically will seek to pass “meaningful social justice reform,” specifically including “expediting expungements or pardons, waiving fees associated with expungements or pardons, and securing legislation to support these reforms.”
Murphy, speaking during the news conference, said that New Jersey has a “shocking gap between persons incarcerated in our system along racial lines, and it’s almost entirely due to low end marijuana offenses.”
“Putting aside all of the other factors that come into the cannabis discussion, the social injustice, at least in New Jersey, screams out at us, and that’s why we’ve come to the table with such passion to try and get this done,” he said.
Officials have also agreed to support, and advocate for, the passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would reduce hurdles to banking services for cannabis business owners.
(Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the SAFE Banking Act.)
These state leaders have also agreed on a regional approach to vaping policies, including limiting added flavorings, with the exception of compounds that come directly from the cannabis plant. Policymakers are also drafting safety guidelines for nicotine, CBD and other cannabinoids, and “diluents, excipients, cutting agents, and other additives.” Interestingly, it appears that policies are also being drafted on regulating temperature control and the internal heating mechanics for vaporizers, which could be a cause of some of the pulmonary illnesses that have sickened 1,479 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island will soon also have uniform driving while impaired policies, including “uniform” standard blood and/or saliva testing for THC impairment, and drug recognition expert approaches.
There will also be a shared effort toward stamping out the illicit market, which is still thriving in many other states with legalized cannabis, including states like Colorado, Oregon, and California.
New York Sen. Diane Savino, who represents areas of Brooklyn and Staten Island, has been a strong supporter of cannabis law reform in New York, and reacted to the regional summit with measured positivity.
“I think it is an encouraging sign that New York is taking the lead on joining with other states. I have said many times that having 30 plus states, and 30 different sets of regulations, is absurd. I am hoping that we can move forward, especially in light of the national vaping crisis,” Savino told Cannabis Wire. “One thing is clear,” she added, “no one has had an adverse health issue as a result of using either medical or adult use cannabis from our legal, regulated, tested products.”
Yeji Lee contributed reporting.