While touring a mass COVID-19 vaccination site on Long Island on Monday afternoon, amid mounting calls for resignation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke about the budget and the need to legalize adult use cannabis, saying that “we’re very close on marijuana.”
Cuomo said that he spent the past weekend “on the phone” with New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, talking about cannabis legalization, and “working through it.”
“We’ve tried to do that for the past three years, we have to get it done this year,” Cuomo said. “There’s been too many young lives that have been ruined because of the marijuana laws.”
For the third year in a row, Cuomo and lawmakers are pushing parallel efforts to legalize cannabis in New York. Senator Liz Krueger and Peoples-Stokes reintroduced the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (S.854/A.1248), while Cuomo reintroduced his cannabis plan through budget legislation, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act. The budget deadline is April 1, and lawmakers and the governor face a $15 billion shortfall. The budget process is happening this year during more tumult than usual, as Cuomo has been in the headlines for mishandling nursing home deaths during the pandemic and for allegations of sexual harassment.
On Monday, Cuomo again referred to legalization as one of several “significant revenue raising proposals” for New York State’s budget gap and touted the potential tax revenue windfall.
“How you raise revenue can actually raise revenue or can cost you revenue. If you’re not careful the way you do it, you may actually lose money for the state,” Cuomo said. Bringing the budget conversation to cannabis, Cuomo added, “There are also pieces of legislation that we’ve been trying to get done for a long time that we have to get done this year.”
Peoples-Stokes spokesperson Mark Boyd told Cannabis Wire on Monday that Peoples-Stokes is “pleased where negotiations are but there are still quite a few outstanding issues remaining,” adding that, “We’re cautiously optimistic that things could be finalized this week or next but we’ll have to see how things play out.”
Krueger shared a similar sentiment.
“I am very optimistic about completing negotiations and having a three-way agreed-upon bill to legalize marijuana very soon,” Krueger told Cannabis Wire on Monday.
Top lawmakers have reiterated that cannabis is not going to be enough of a revenue driver in the short term to make a difference in the pressing budget gap. Further, they told Cannabis Wire, legalization needs to be centered on social justice.
“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 in January.
Peoples-Stokes agreed at the time that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased budget woes in many states, 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.
Meanwhile, a Siena College poll released on Monday shows that nearly 59% of New Yorkers support adult use cannabis legalization.
Krueger, Peoples-Stokes, and a handful of other lawmakers spoke last week at a Women in Cannabis Lobby Day, as did representatives from local and national advocacy groups and cannabis companies.
Krueger said during the lobby day event that she’s “very optimistic” that “this is the year we might actually get this done in New York.”
“It’s critical that we get it done right. You only get one chance at it. So, the focus that Crystal and I have continued to bring to our effort,” Krueger continued, “is to make sure that legalizing marijuana for recreational adult use, for expanded medical purposes, and for opening up more of the CBD hemp market is all done thoughtfully and with a real focus on ending criminalization of these drugs, cleaning the records of people who got caught up in the drug war, making sure there are investments in communities of color who disproportionately were harmed by the drug war for the last 70, 80 years, and to make sure that we are not simply becoming a state that makes the mistake of allowing big pharma or big alcohol to simply come in and take control of cannabis products.”
Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who represents a swath of Manhattan that includes Chelsea and midtown, reiterated that legalization should focus on justice, not dollars.
“I don’t like it when people say, ‘oh, this will help generate revenue to balance the budget,’” he said. “It’s probably not going to produce revenue for a couple of years. And there will be a couple of zeros missing from there being enough money to balance any budget. The reason for doing this is to get the criminal justice system out of the business of enforcing marijuana prohibition. It’s a broken system. It damages lives.”
During Monday’s news conference, Cuomo mentioned Peoples-Stokes’ district, which includes Buffalo, also home of the Buffalo Bills, the NFL team that nearly made the Super Bowl this past year.
“I said, ‘look, this is not about getting in the red zone anymore. We have to get over the goal line this time. We need the seven points,’” Cuomo said, comparing legalization to football, reiterating that there’s “a lot happening on that budget that we have to get done. And that starts today.”
This story has been updated to reflect comment from New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes spokesperson Mark Boyd and Senator Liz Krueger.