The deadline to legalize cannabis by budget, as proposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, is less than one month away. But, Cuomo’s proposal does not have support from most of the state’s cannabis reform advocacy groups, nor from key lawmakers who have championed legalization this year and in years past. The deadline to legalize cannabis by bill, though, isn’t until June, and the debates over whether to legalize, and, to a greater extent, how, are starting to heat up.
On Wednesday, the largest national anti-legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which has been actively lobbying in the state, hosted a morning event focused on potential negative outcomes of legalization. Immediately following, several groups in favor of legalization held their own event, focused on the benefits of legalization and, specifically, lawmakers’ approach, which prioritizes equity and justice.
Even though Cuomo revised his budget proposal, as Cannabis Wire recently reported, advocates and lawmakers have said it’s not enough. That was the message again on Wednesday, as advocates reiterated their support for the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (S.854/A.1248), introduced by Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. Groups participating included, among others, New York Civil Liberties Union, Drug Policy Alliance, VOCAL-NY, Citizen Action, Partnership for the Public Good, and NYC NORML.
Kumar Rao, Senior Director of Policy and Strategy at the New York Working Families Party, spoke at the start of Wednesday’s event that pushed for the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.
“It’s well past time for New York to follow suit and correct decades of harm to Black and other communities of color disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of marijuana,” Rao said, referencing New Jersey, where voters passed a legalization ballot measure in November, and lawmakers passed implementation legislation last week. “But we can’t legalize marijuana in a way that doesn’t address and reverse those harms. We can’t legalize marijuana in a way that doesn’t invest in communities targeted by criminalization.”
Legalization efforts in New York failed in 2020 and in 2019. Both years, a budget plan and separate legislation were put forth, and both years, major sticking points involved the allocation of cannabis tax revenue and equity measures.
“We have seen the governor’s proposal for the third time,” Peoples-Stokes said last month. “OK, now let us put our proposal out there, get it passed by the legislature, and then we’ll begin to negotiate with the governor. Clearly, his tax proposals are all wrong. Clearly, his social equity proposals are all wrong. So there are a number of things that need to be fixed. And if they’re not fixed, then we’ll be here next year trying to do the same thing.”
When Cuomo released his revision a couple of weeks later, he said, “I’m hopeful that we can come to an agreement and we can get it done. But I believe, because I’ve seen this movie before, if we don’t get it done by April 1, we won’t get it done.”
Cuomo’s revisions fell into three buckets: more specificity around how the cannabis tax revenue earmarked for social equity will be allocated; explicitly allowing delivery licenses; and more leniency around criminal penalties. But, for example, Cuomo’s proposal still does not allow for home cultivation, among other provisions included in the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, often referred to as MRTA.
The event hosted by legalization opponents was not focused on one proposal versus another, but only on why neither proposal should advance.
“We are here once again to oppose the reckless policy of the legalization and commercialization of today’s high potency marijuana,” said Kevin Sabet, founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, at the start of the event.
Topics covered by Sabet and other speakers ranged from concerns over potential implications for mental health to youth use. Participating groups included: Yonkers Community Action Program, New York State Sheriffs’ Association, and the New York State PTA.
Thomas Madejski, the former president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, and a member of the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Board of Trustees, said that while he “prescribes medical marijuana,” he believes, as does the AMA, that “adult use should not be legalized.”