“The Devil Is in the Details”—Cuomo Stalls New York Cannabis Legalization

    On March 31, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo reached an agreement with the state legislature on his 2020 Fiscal Year (FY) budget that was self-billed as a “true justice agenda.” Yet one of his progressive talking points was entirely omitted: cannabis legalization.

    “Probably the biggest single issue that will not be addressed is the legalization of marijuana,” Gov. Cuomo had announced in a March 29 budget update. “That is in concept, we have agreement. But that is all about the devil is in the details. And that is going to take more time to work out.”

    After the agreement was made, Gov. Cuomo clarified that “The political desire is there; we will get it done.”

    Over the past year, Governor Cuomo’s support for the creation of a legal marijuana market in the state has transformed into potential tangible action. In his third inaugural address, Cuomo asserted that “New York [has] led on legalizing recreational marijuana.”

    And in the first three months of 2019, the governor was taking a bold stand on cannabis—until the time for budget signing came.

    “For us, marijuana is a relatively new issue,” Governor Cuomo told radio station WNYC. “It really started with my proposal this year but they have signaled that they need more time to talk about it. Therefore I didn’t want to count the revenue for marijuana in this budget.”

    Directed by the governor himself, a July 2018 report by the Department of Health recommending cannabis legalization found that total marijuana tax revenues in the state could be as high as $677 million.

    Given Cuomo’s past endorsements of legalization, activists are naturally disappointed with his inaction.

    “We believe that New Yorkers deserve more than unmet promises and empty rhetoric around marijuana reform,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance,  in a press release following the budget agreement. “Each day marijuana legalization is not passed, someone is arrested, deported, evicted or loses custody of a child because of criminalization. Each day that New York’s leaders maintain prohibition, someone can’t pass a background check, has their parole revoked, or loses a job.”

    Additionally, the authenticity of Cuomo’s goal to use cannabis legalization for the “economic empowerment for communities that have paid the price” from the War on Drugs has been subject to scrutiny. Recently, The New York Post and The New York Times reported on the big money the governor has received from the marijuana industry.

    Cuomo suggested in his speech about the FY 2020 budget highlights that “The best way to do it was not in the rush of the budget.” Instead of making the executive decision to start a statewide path towards legalization, Cuomo is deferring to the legislative branch.

    “My take is it will be done during the legislative session post budget and therefore I took the revenue out of the budget,” Cuomo said.

    But some in the state senate are skeptical that the Marijuana Regulation Taxation Act will make it through the legislature.

    “We have a lot of members who represent conservative areas who don’t think they can vote for a freestanding bill to legalize marijuana,” state Senator Diane Savino told Cannabis Wire. “If it’s not in the budget, we can’t pass it this year. And if we can’t pass it in an off election year, we won’t pass it in an election year [next year].”

    But advocates like Frederique will continue the fight for legalization—something that 63 percent of New York voters support.

    “It is past time for the NY legislature to pass the Marijuana Regulation Taxation Act,” said Frederique. “It is also time for Governor Cuomo to keep his commitment to marijuana reform, and the justice that he has promised. The clock for passing marijuana justice starts now.”

    Screenshot: Governor Andrew Cuomo via Youtube

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