Cannabis isn’t remotely at the top of the list of potential fallout from the latest allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Andrew Cuomo. But that doesn’t mean some ripple effects from New York Attorney General Letitia James’s new 165-page report won’t reach New York’s fledgling cannabis industry.
The report, which was released on Tuesday, concluded that Cuomo “did sexually harass multiple women” by “engaging in unwanted groping, kissing, and hugging, and making inappropriate comments,” and that “Cuomo’s actions and those of the Executive Chamber violated multiple state and federal laws, as well as the Executive Chamber’s own written policies.”
The consequences will be big. And among many other things, they could have implications for the future of New York’s adult use cannabis program. The bill that Cuomo signed into law in March creates an Office of Cannabis Management, and “establishes an Executive Director appointed by the Governor subject to Senate confirmation.” That nomination hasn’t come from Cuomo’s office yet, and it’s unclear when—and, now, perhaps, whether—Cuomo will make the announcement.
Should Cuomo resign, as President Joe Biden suggested he do, or is impeached, as state lawmakers are rapidly preparing to make happen, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul would step into the role.
As Cannabis Wire reported in early July, some advocates grew frustrated that Cuomo’s nomination for executive director hadn’t surfaced months after signing the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act in March. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Liz Krueger, the sponsors of the bill who for years negotiated with Cuomo over equity and other issues in the legislation, fielded a question about the slow pace of developments post-legalization at CannaGather, an industry event that was held virtually in June.
At the time, Krueger said she expected to hear from Cuomo about his selections any day, and People-Stokes suggested that debate over who should hold the position is necessary to build a solid foundation for New York’s cannabis industry in its earliest days. “I hear you saying that things are being dragged along,” People-Stokes added. “I don’t think that they are. I think that it’s being more deliberate. We could have just said ‘okay’ to the first thought that came out of the second floor. And most people said, ‘no, that’s not okay.’ And sometimes you have to have these conversations in order to get it right,” Peoples-Stokes said.
The future leader of New York’s cannabis program will have a “huge responsibility,” Krueger told Cannabis Wire in an interview in June, overseeing regulation and executing follow through on equity issues while finding solutions to curb the state’s sprawling illegal market.
While the ramifications of Cuomo’s sexual harassment controversies could delay the buildout of the state’s adult use industry, it is also possible that the mounting allegations against the governor this spring played a role in legalization crossing the finish line this year, after years of failed three-way negotiations.
“Obviously, he agreed to the negotiations, and we did get it done,” Krueger continued, referencing Cuomo’s signature of the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act in March. “But I don’t know that his head was in the game for marijuana. I think he was looking for things to move that would be popular and would perhaps take reporters’ minds off of other stories they were busy studying and writing.”
As a refresher, March was also the month when the calls for Cuomo’s resignation began to cascade, from many corners of politics.
When asked directly what made 2021 different from the preceding years during which negotiations fell apart, and whether the allegations of sexual misconduct might have somehow played into legalization this year, Krueger told Cannabis Wire, “I think they did.”
“You did get the sense from his people that this had become a high priority for the governor to get done,” Krueger said. “And I don’t believe it was a high priority for the governor to get done because he suddenly had a personal different take on the issue of marijuana.”
What’s next for Cuomo? On Tuesday, he denied wrongdoing in a video statement responding to James’ report.
New York lawmakers were swift with their own responses. Krueger called for impeachment if Cuomo won’t resign.
“If he does not resign, he must be impeached as swiftly as possible,” Krueger Tweeted Tuesday afternoon. New York’s Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins also called on Cuomo to resign Tuesday.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called the findings in James’ report “disturbing.”
“The details provided by the victims are gut-wrenching. Our hearts go out to all the individuals who have had to endure this horrible experience. The conduct by the Governor outlined in this report would indicate someone who is not fit for office,” Heastie continued.
The list of high-ranking elected officials calling for Cuomo’s resignation included New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who released a joint statement with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand saying that Cuomo had “lost the confidence” of New Yorkers. President Biden, a longtime friend of the governor, was asked on Tuesday whether Cuomo should resign. He answered simply: “Yes.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly reflect that James’ report contains 165 pages.