Cannabis legalization in New York is being described as inevitable as lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo negotiate aspects of the state’s long awaited adult-use marijuana law. Some believe a bill could be put forward in just a matter of weeks.
Cuomo has included legalization in his last three budget proposals, but previous efforts fell apart as lawmakers couldn’t agree on certain details – like how to spend the tax revenue raised through sales.
This year, Cuomo again submitted a proposal for legal pot: the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA). The governor has pushed for his bill to be passed through the budget process.
However, the CRTA was not well received. Among other concerns, advocates are troubled by the bill’s failure to adequately address social equity issues, as well as the governor’s refusal to allow any amount of personal cultivation.
Lawmakers and advocates prefer a separate pro-pot initiative, introduced by Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Liz Krueger. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) differs significantly from the governor’s bill, primarily in its focus on social equity programs and criminal justice reform.
The lawmakers’ bill also allows people to grow their own Cannabis at home.
Now, legislators and the governor are engaged in negotiations to hammer out the details of a single bill that will advance. But the feeling in Albany is that the final legislation will look a lot more like the MRTA than Cuomo’s CRTA. Lawmakers have also made it clear that they don’t intend to enact legalization through the budget process, as Cuomo had hoped.
Cuomo, who faces accusations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior from at least seven women, would no doubt love to see a popular law like legal Cannabis enacted as soon as possible. The embattled governor is facing growing calls from his own party to resign. Legalization can’t save him, but it could distract from his scandal. The question is, can he get out of his own way?
Reports indicate discussions over the legislation have often been contentious, with Cuomo pushing for certain law enforcement provisions. According to New York activist Eli Northrup, the governor “is insisting that police continue to be able to use the odor of marijuana as a justification to stop/search people, even after the substance is legal.”
Cuomo might want to continue fighting the war on pot after legalization is enacted, but the governor’s clout has been significantly diminished. In addition to the ongoing sex scandal that could ultimately lead to his ouster, the legislature currently holds a supermajority, giving them the ability to override a veto from the governor.
Given the unique circumstances, lawmakers should be able to create the bill they want. And they believe they’re close. Sen. Krueger said the bill “could pass the legislature before we get to the budget.”
Of course, as New Yorkers know, they’ve been close before. Legalization seemed like a sure thing in 2019. But hope springs eternal. Maybe this is the year.