New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is taking another swing at legalization in 2020, an election year during which state lawmakers face a $6 billion budget shortfall.
Cuomo reiterated his goal of adult use legalization at the annual State of the State address, hosted Wednesday in Albany. The address serves as a sort of best-case scenario painted by the governor, and often doesn’t get into the nitty gritty of how various plans will be funded or implemented. A more detailed plan for legalization is likely to come when Cuomo unveils his proposed New York budget, expected later in January.
Cannabis legalization has the “potential to have a significant economic impact on distressed areas in New York, creating thousands of new jobs, spurring billions in economic activity and generating an estimated $300 million in tax revenue when fully implemented,” Cuomo said in his briefing book.
During the State of the State address, Cuomo said that the state’s “economic growth would be a hollow victory if we did not continue our social progress. For decades, communities of color were disproportionately affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws. Last year, we righted that injustice when we decriminalized possession.” This was a reference to decriminalization legislation that was passed last year after legalization efforts failed in both the budget and legislature.
“This year, let’s work with our neighbors—New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania—to coordinate a safe and fair system and let’s legalize adult use of marijuana,” Cuomo said, to an eruption of applause. This was a nod to the “regional approach” to cannabis policies underway in northeastern states, led by Cuomo. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the related cannabis summit held in New York late last year.)
Cuomo is also proposing the creation of the Global Cannabis and Hemp Research Center for Science, Research, and Education with the State University of New York (SUNY) system, “so New York can lead the way.”
Cuomo referenced the cannabidiol (CBD) craze, and its seemingly unending popularity among consumers—even though consumers actually know very little about the cannabinoid’s potential and limitations, which is “critical to both citizen safety and to future policy and product innovation,” Cuomo said in the briefing book.
“The federal government failed Americans with opioids, and we cannot allow that to happen with cannabinoids,” he said. “Until now, the cannabinoid industry has gone unregulated and unchecked, and there is a dearth of independent research on the science, the safety risks, and the dangers/benefits associated with its potential use,” Cuomo said in the briefing book.
The SUNY Center will, at the start, focus on three areas: toxicity, bioavailability, and dosing mechanisms. “This emphasis will determine what is safe, what is effective, and what parameters define healthy and safe dosing. It will also reveal how these substances interact with prescription drugs,” Cuomo said in the briefing book.
State regulators also plan to subsequently establish an open source database for drug interactions, “accessible to anyone considering the use of cannabinoids.”
More specifically, though details were scant on Wednesday, Cuomo is proposing that the state establish a “comprehensive cannabis program to protect consumers, promote equity, and generate economic development.”
The major sticking point will likely be around equity provisions, a critical aspect of the legalization plan. Disagreements over specifics posed a hurdle some lawmakers couldn’t overcome last year.
With the creation of the Office of Cannabis Management, which will focus on all aspects of cannabis regulation by overseeing both the medical and hemp programs, along with adult use if passed, Cuomo’s proposal will include “social equity licensing opportunities” and “facilitate market entry through access to capital, technical assistance, and incubation of equity entrepreneurs,” according to the governor’s briefing book. (Read Cannabis Wire’s interview with the first head of the new Office.)
New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who represents parts of western New York, including Buffalo, was a key lawmaker during legalization discussions last year.
“We are hopeful advocates spoke with legislators who may be on the fence and educated them about the benefits for all New Yorkers,” Peoples-Stokes press secretary Kevin Jolly told Cannabis Wire.
“The Majority Leader will do everything in her power to see this legislation pass,” Jolly said. In response to a question about the legalization proposal’s chances of passage, Jolly said, “It’s not a good idea to make predictions as to whether it will or will not pass this year. She remains optimistic.”
Senator Liz Krueger, who represents the east side of Manhattan, is another key lawmaker who pushed for legalization last year. Krueger told Cannabis Wire that she is “confident that we can cross the finish line on legalizing adult-use cannabis in New York State this year.”
“I have had many productive conversations with my colleagues to get to a place where we can all come together on a bill. New York is no longer breaking new ground in this space, and we have the benefit of learning from many other places that have implemented a legalize, tax, and regulate model,” Krueger told Cannabis Wire. “We are only at the very beginning of the process for this session, but we will be able to build off the work we did last year, and finally deliver a real win to the communities who have suffered the most as a result of prohibition.”
Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, who represents districts in Central New York, including Binghamton, told Cannabis Wire that she thinks it’s “very positive” that Cuomo has advanced a legalization proposal again.
“I think perhaps the fact that the governor has taken on a regional approach may be something that appeals to some members who are uncertain. That he’s partnered with our neighboring states to come up with the regional plan, shows a broader initiative, and perhaps now will give us the ability to move this over the finish line,” Lupardo said.
On the public health front, Cuomo is proposing an age limit of 21 for consumption and possession of cannabis, and strict testing and labeling standards, along with funding for treatment and education efforts.
A brief catch up on what happened last year: Cuomo pushed for legalization, initially hoping it would pass in the state budget, a behemoth package of legislation through which Cuomo thought regulated cannabis might stand a better chance of passage. When budget negotiations proved fruitless, the conversation picked back up in the legislature, where lawmakers never came to a consensus over things like enforcement and where, exactly, cannabis tax revenue would be allocated.
After legalization’s failure last year, Cuomo took the unprecedented step of hosting a regional cannabis summit in October, which brought together governors, lawmakers, and regulators from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Colorado who met in Manhattan to discuss cannabis policies, from legalization to vaping.
While “there is a desire” to legalize, Cuomo said at the start of the Regional Cannabis Regulation and Vaping Summit, “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.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said last year he took a fishing trip with Cuomo to discuss policies that could be better implemented in tandem, from cybersecurity 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 voters will decide on legalization on the 2020 ballot. Gov. Phil Murphy told Cannabis Wire and a small group of journalists at New York’s cannabis summit that, “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.”
This piece was updated with comments from Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo.