New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised again that marijuana legalization is coming. However, because of how the legislative grind works in the real world, he might have to storm the state capitol to get it done.
There’s still a wealth of challenges ahead before New York agrees on how legal marijuana should look. And while it might be a bit of a stretch to suggest that Cuomo will have to launch a reign of terror to shake some sense into lawmakers who continue to sabotage progress, there’s no doubt that he will need to get creative to see it through.
Governor Cuomo used his annual state of the state address earlier this week to double down on his dedication to creating a taxed and regulated cannabis market. He’s confident that 2021 will be the year that it goes all the way. “We will legalize adult-use recreational cannabis, joining 15 other states who’ve already done so,” he said. “This will raise revenue and will end the over-criminalization of this product that has left so many communities of color over-policed and over-incarcerated.”
It was just three years ago that Cuomo believed marijuana was a “gateway drug.” He was also very dismissive about any efforts to legitimize the plant. But after a study commissioned by his own administration found that ending prohibition could generate hundreds of millions of dollars and promote a new level of social justice, he bought in.
Legal weed would be a win-win for the state, so he challenged the suits in Albany to whip something up and get it on his desk pronto. Only that never happened. Lawmakers haven’t been able to see eye-to-eye on the issue. They can’t agree on tax revenue, how it should be allotted, or how to set up an industry that creates a level playing field for all.
Therefore, marijuana has continued to strike out.
Some lawmakers are ready to get back to work this year on legalization efforts. Senator Liz Krueger recently submitted the same bill as she did in 2020. But Cuomo is sick of wasting time watching unworkable plans being flushed. Last week, the governor unveiled his own proposal designed to legalize for adult use, one that he says, “will generate much-needed revenue, while allowing us to support those that have been most harmed by decades of failed cannabis prohibition.”
There are no two ways about it: Cuomo’s will to legalize weed in 2021 is financially motivated. The state budget is in bad shape — recently striking a $15 billion deficit — and the governor needs new revenue streams (legal weed & online gambling) to help save the state from economic ruins. Cuomo understands the state could soon be raking in money to combat the gnarly reverberations of COVID-19 by allowing marijuana to be sold legally to adults 21 and older.
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Reports show the state could generate $300 million in annual tax revenue with this concept. It certainly wouldn’t be the wherewithal to ending the budget gap, but it would aggressively chip away at it. Furthermore, legal weed is a long term plan for a short term problem. As we’ve seen in other legal states, economic salvation continues to increase throughout the years.
The problem is the drug policy people are looking to New York to become a poster child for nationwide reform. Melissa Moore, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, wants New York to become a “national model for marijuana legalization by centering community reinvestment, equity, and justice within our comprehensive reform.” And while that is all well and good, this is where lawmakers are going to butt heads in the 2021 legislative session. Just as we’ve seen in previous years, nobody seems to agree on what any of this stuff means or how to go about it.
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Too many groups want the focus of legalization to be on apologizing for decades of racially-biased marijuana enforcement instead of looking to the future and moving forward. While these factors should come into play, they also have the power to hinder progress. And we can’t change the past.
Let’s hope that NY lawmakers don’t allow these details to jam them up again. New York needs legal weed to happen this year.