New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday his plans for cannabis legalization, and for streamlining the state’s existing medical cannabis and hemp industries.
While details are expected to emerge as part of Cuomo’s State of the State address next week, Cuomo’s plan includes the creation of an Office of Cannabis Management, which would regulate the existing medical cannabis and hemp programs, as well as the new adult use program.
Cuomo has pursued legalization—including his proposal to create the aforementioned Office— through the state’s budget twice before. Though, lawmakers haven’t been able to agree on the details. Some lawmakers preferred to hammer out legalization and its details in committees, rather than through a sweeping piece of legislation like the budget, while others disagreed with Cuomo’s plan to have cannabis revenue directed to the general fund, instead of specifically earmarked for equity provisions.
In Cuomo’s announcement on Wednesday, he directly referenced the need to create an equitable cannabis industry in New York. Though, he didn’t mention the allocation of revenue. Instead, Cuomo’s plan says that “an equitable structure for the adult-use market will be created by offering licensing opportunities and assistance to entrepreneurs in communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.”
On Wednesday, Cuomo talked about his legalization plan after a reporter asked the governor about his thoughts on sports betting and cannabis legalization as potential sources of revenue for the state.
“I think this should have been passed years ago. I think too many people have been imprisoned and incarcerated and punished. Too many of those people are Black, Latino and poor. It’s exaggerated the injustice of the justice system,” Cuomo said during the news conference. “I supported it for years. I’ve tried to pass it. But this is a year where we do need the funding and a lot of New Yorkers are struggling. So I think this year will give us the momentum to get it over the goal line.”
Once New York’s cannabis industry is mature, it’s expected to generate upwards of $300 million in tax revenue, according to Cuomo.
Cuomo’s announcement comes just one day after key New York lawmakers introduced their own version of legalization, Senate Bill S854, which is identical to the bill lawmakers fought to pass in 2020.
The top sponsor of this bill, Senator Liz Krueger, told Cannabis Wire on Wednesday that she is “glad” that Cuomo will include legalization in his State of the State.
“As always, the devil is in the details, and I look forward to reviewing legislative language and working with the Governor and my colleagues in the Legislature to finish the job and do it right – ensuring that resources are directed to those communities most directly impacted by the failed policies of the so-called ‘War on Drugs,'” Krueger told Cannabis Wire.
Krueger is unconvinced that cannabis legalization should be seen as a solution for the gaping billion-dollar hole in the state’s budget.
“Is there a large amount of revenue to be expected in the early years from legalizing cannabis? No, there really is not. So, the state is still looking at an enormous hole in our revenue for the next few years. And I think that anyone who thinks marijuana is a significant silver bullet for that problem is incorrect,” Krueger, who represents the east side of Manhattan, told Cannabis Wire.
New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire that she agrees that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on budgets across the country, might be more of a talking point than an actual catalyst for cannabis law reform in New York.
“I respect whatever decision people come up with, but I don’t think it should be the pandemic that drives us to do something that’s right. But if that’s what it takes, let’s go,” Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire.
In October 2019, Cuomo hosted the Regional Cannabis Regulation and Vaping Summit, which brought together governors, lawmakers, and regulators from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Colorado to debate cannabis policies, from legalization to vaping. Cuomo and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont urged states in the region to link arms on cannabis policies, acknowledging how small northeast states could see residents in non-legal states crossing borders for legal cannabis next door.
“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 in November 2020 passed a ballot measure to legalize cannabis for adult use, adding pressure to other northeast states.
During his State of the State address on Wednesday, Lamont again returned to cannabis legalization, saying that he looks forward to “working with our neighboring states” and tribal leaders to modernize gaming, internet betting, and legalized cannabis.
“They’re all happening all around us. Let’s not surrender these opportunities to out-of-state markets or even worse, to underground markets,” Lamont said.
This story was updated at 2:30 p.m on Wednesday January 6 with new comments from New York Senator Liz Kruger.