Pot legalization is in trouble.
Citing a need for more time, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on March 19 that the bill to legalize marijuana has been nixed from the state budget package that is due by April 1 and would instead be considered through a standalone vote, sparking concern from advocates who are worried the legislation’s fate is in jeopardy.
“If we don’t do it in the budget, it’s going to be a lot harder to pass as a standalone,” Brad Usher, a senior aide to Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger, warned in an email. Krueger, an East Side Democrat first elected in 2002, is one of the sponsors of the legalization bill that has united advocates in recent years.
The Drug Policy Alliance, a major drug reform organization, was equally alarmed about the latest development.
“The governor and the Legislature previously said that there is a pathway to get this done, but their latest comments are non-committal,” said Jag Davies, a spokesperson for the group.
Cuomo said lawmakers need additional time to come to an agreement on the bill, but maintained he is hopeful it will be pass by June. Still, he acknowledged that the standalone legislation would face an uphill battle “because it’s now just marijuana with a capital M.”
The governor’s announcement followed opposition from New York’s sheriffs and the state Congress of Parents and Teachers, while county executives in Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Chemung, and Putnam Counties said they would recommend that their legislatures pass a local law banning pot sales.
Under the bill’s current language, counties would only receive tax revenue from marijuana if they agree to sell it.
Davies reacted strongly to the idea of a delay and stressed that communities “deserve an urgent and steadfast commitment to marijuana within the budget.”
“The communities that have lost the most cannot wait any longer,” he added.
One point of contention is how much money would go toward communities of color that have long been targeted for arrests and enforcement. Krueger and Buffalo Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes have been working with activists to ensure those communities are not shut out of a fair share of retail entrepreneurship under the law.
The State Police, meanwhile, are seeking funds dedicated to training 400 people to test drivers who might be under the influence of pot, and town officials across the state want to control the sale at the local level. A similar provision in the Massachusetts law has made progress in rolling out marijuana tediously slow.
Cuomo is hopeful that a share of the estimated $300 million in annual tax revenue from legal pot sales can be earmarked for modernizing the New York City subway system.
During the final days of the budget, big changes can happen overnight, but a plan for taxing and regulating pot currently appears to be on hold.