As the New York budget deadline looms next week, Governor Andrew Cuomo called cannabis legalization one of his “top priorities.”
“Legalizing cannabis is this year’s priority to be the progressive capital of the nation,” Cuomo said during a press briefing on Wednesday. “We won’t be the first, but our program will be the best.”
This year, for the third time in as many years, both lawmakers and Cuomo have brought forward legalization proposals, Cuomo through his budget legislation package (Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act), and lawmakers through a standalone bill (Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act).
“We’ve been trying to legalize cannabis for three years. I failed every year. We’re close, but we’ve been close three times before. If we were playing horseshoes would be in good shape, but this is not horseshoes. You either get it done and sign a bill or you don’t,” Cuomo said.
Then, Cuomo turned to the subject of opposition, adding, “I understand there’s an opposition to legalizing cannabis.”
Cuomo used casinos and gaming as an analogous example, saying that in a “perfect world, you could argue no gaming, no gambling, no casinos. We don’t live in a perfect world.” He noted that while New York doesn’t have casino gaming, the reality of its availability in New Jersey, Connecticut, and on Native American reservations means that New Yorkers are gambling.
“We have passed the point of legalized cannabis. It’s in New Jersey. It’s in Massachusetts,” Cuomo said. “To say we’re going to stop it is not an option. It is here. The only question is: do we regulate it here? Do we gather the revenue here? Or do we have people driving to New Jersey, just right there, or to Massachusetts.”
Last November, New Jersey voters passed Public Question 1 in support of legalizing cannabis, and last month, lawmakers passed a bill to launch the state’s industry.
Elected officials foresaw the potential regulatory implications of the patchwork of cannabis policies in the northeast, where someone can drive a few hours and hit several different states. In 2019, Cuomo hosted the Regional Cannabis Regulation and Vaping Summit, during which elected officials discussed how northeastern states could take a “regional approach” to legalization. Governors, lawmakers, and regulators from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Colorado met in midtown Manhattan to discuss cannabis policies, from legalization to vaping.
The legalization debate has intensified in the weeks leading up to the budget deadline, with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins saying this week during a news conference that a deal on adult use is “really, really close,” and that some of the disagreements that have held up a deal to-date have been resolved.
Last week, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal-Peoples Stokes’ spokesperson Mark Boyd told Cannabis Wire that “the final hurdle is impaired driving. It continues to be negotiated and we believe we’ll find a solution in the very near future.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo continues to push a legalization deal ahead of the March 31 budget deadline.
“This year, we have to get it done. And getting it done by the time the budget is passed is essential. We are close, but we’ve been close before. This is getting it over the goal line. And those last few inches tend to be the toughest,” Cuomo said.