Days into the new year and new legislative session in New York, and one of the state’s most important lawmakers on cannabis legalization is asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to compromise.
Cuomo unveiled his state budget this week and, along with it, his aim to legalize cannabis through the budget process.
“Legalize adult use cannabis,” Cuomo said during Tuesday’s budget address. “I believe it is best done in the budget, I said that last year. I believe the budget is the opportunity, frankly, to make some tough decisions and work through tough issues that without the budget can often languish”
Last year, Cuomo tried and failed to legalize cannabis through the budget. After, lawmakers couldn’t come to a consensus on specific areas of legalization policy before time ran out when the session ended last June. Now, while Cuomo is pitching his version of legalization, Sen. Liz Krueger, a key legalization supporter, announced that she’s racking up support for her own bill.
Sen. Pete Harckham, who represents parts of Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties, held a news conference with Krueger Thursday to discuss his support of Krueger’s version of legalization, he says, after an “evolution” of thought on the issue. Krueger, through her spokesperson, told Cannabis Wire that Krueger is currently working on the final language on a revised version of her bill with the Assembly sponsors, and will introduce it when it’s finished.
While there were reports that Harckham was one of the lawmakers blocking legalization efforts last year, he said Thursday “that was not really the case. I was a proponent of slowing it down so that we’re sure we get this we get it done correctly.”
Harckham said he’s spent the last year meeting with voters, teachers, law enforcement, treatment providers, people in recovery, and families to talk about legalization.
“It was an exhaustive discussion,” Harckham said, who also chairs the Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. Harckham said he looks at legalization through specific lenses, as a parent, and a person in recovery.
“After many discussions with Senator Krueger about the concerns of my constituents,” Harckham said, “she did make changes in her bill. So there will be additional money for local police departments, for DUI enforcement to train those drug recognition experts. There will be money for schools to deal with risky behavior. There will be money for a social media campaign directed at young people, saying that just because something is legal does not mean it is safe for you.”
It was Krueger’s pledge to invest in substance use disorder treatment and mental health treatment, Harckham said, that led to his support of her bill.
“The thing about trying to continue to outlaw marijuana is that, let’s be frank: We can buy this in any high school in New York state. The marketplace has spoken. So it’s time that we tax this and put that money to a social good,” Harckham said. “And that’s why I’m specifically backing Senator Krueger’s bill. You know, the devil is always in the details. So it’s not: are you for legalization or against legalization? It’s: what is the specific language in the bill?”
In an interview, Cannabis Wire asked if Harckham supported Cuomo’s legalization plan.
“The governor’s proposal puts everything, all of the tax revenue, back into the general fund. So ,if we’re going to do this, let’s do it in a way that we are sure that there is a municipal good that is coming out of it,” he said. “Many of the details are negotiable,” Harckham said, emphasizing that the “essential linchpin that has to be there” is the funding for treatment and prevention.
Harckham also visited an adult use cannabis dispensary in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which he told Cannabis Wire was “very antiseptic” and “looked like a bank.” It was reassurance, Harckham told Cannabis Wire, that his constituents didn’t need to worry about teenagers spotting a cannabis shop and perhaps being enticed.
While Cuomo’s legalization by budget proposal goes into far more depth than the policy plan he laid out during his State of the State, it does not specifically break down where adult use cannabis tax revenue would go. (Read Cannabis Wire’s analysis on the Cuomo’s proposal.)
Cannabis Wire asked Cuomo if he would allocate Krueger’s proposed 25% of cannabis revenue to treatment and prevention, and additional funding toward social justice.
Through a spokesperson, Cuomo responded to Cannabis Wire, “The Governor’s proposal ensures that prevention and treatment, public health and safety, and social and economic equity initiatives all receive robust funding. The proposal provides flexibility so as future data and research becomes available, and new social justice needs are identified, resources can be targeted and applied in the most impactful way possible.”
Krueger, through her spokesperson, told Cannabis Wire that “no discussions have taken place yet on the Governor’s new legislation” with Cuomo.
Krueger called Harckham’s support of her bill “huge news,” and added that, “What I think is so important also about [Harckham] speaking out for my bill, which is not the governor’s proposal —so we aren’t there yet—is that the Assembly and the Senate leadership have made a commitment that the revenues from marijuana, adult recreational marijuana, will go for very specific purposes that it’s desperately needed for today.”
Krueger also emphasized that studies have shown that in states that have legalized, rates of opioid use and overdose drop. Krueger added that she, too, has spent the last year talking to voters and legislative colleagues, who invited her to speak in their districts.
“In some districts, the response is: what’s taking you so long? And in some districts, there is significant fear and concern. But when you talk to people, and when you answer their questions, and when you deal with mythology versus reality, it is amazing how quickly you can move people to understand why, not only is this not the end of the world, this actually might lead us to a much better model, as other states have been seeing.”
As the legislative momentum to legalize in New York gets underway this session, the main question on many New Yorkers’ minds is: will there be enough votes to pass a legalization bill in 2020?
Krueger hit the question head-on.
“I’m optimistic we can get this done in 2020. I’m optimistic we could get it negotiated in the budget, if the governor is willing to make the commitments of how the revenue is to be spent,” Krueger said. “If it can’t get done the right way in the budget, then we will revisit it after the budget is over.”
Krueger mentioned that she has again been working “side by side” with Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, adding, “I’m quite sure that I can comfortably say, for us, we’re not moving forward unless we get the commitment of how the revenue needs to be spent.”
Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire on Wednesday that she was “pleased” that Cuomo advanced the legalization legislation, and that she looks forward to “continuing the conversation with my colleagues and the Governor on all the various aspects and proposals.”
“As has always been the case, the only legislation that I can support will include a statutory commitment of significant resources directed to communities harmed by mass incarceration resulting from the so called war on drugs, and a robust economic and social equity plan for access to the new industry. I am optimistic the Governor will also come to this conclusion as negotiations progress,” Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire.
This story was updated with comment from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Pete Harckham.