by Daniel Ulloa
The New York Legislature did not pass a recreational cannabis bill before it adjourned for the summer to the disappointment of many.
Governor Andrew Cuomo was previously strongly against legalization, having called it “a gateway drug”. However, in the New York Democratic Gubernatorial primary opposition candidate Cynthia Nixon pushed him on the issue as she advocated for full legalization and he came around to supporting it.
Thus, in this year’s State of the State, he called for its inclusion in the state’s annual budget bill. However, it was not passed as part of the budget and it could not get passed in the legislature’s short and busy session as a separate bill either.
The nature of the deadline impeded efforts elsewhere in the country this year as well.
This year was thought to be an especially ripe time for passage as Democratic State Senators in the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) who caucused with Republicans blocked legalization in the past had lost their seats to more progressive leaders.
In addition, in a poll it was found that 55 percent of the state supported legalization.
Advocates had launched a full-blown campaign in the final push including social media ads. Supporters from Illinois also came after they recently won there becoming the 11th state to legalize and tout the merits of doing so.
The failure of similar efforts in New Jersey seemed to have a spillover effect when earlier this year it looked like a race to see which state would legalize recreational use first.
The biggest point of contention was that State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) insisted that revenue from taxes derived from sales would go towards communities most impacted by the War on Drugs where the existence of a felony record has dampened the prospects of many for decades
Municipal control over the issue was also at stake and where the anticipated revenue would be spent were also points of contention.
Without guarantee of a dedicated portion of revenue, support for reform collapsed among minority legislators. Many were eager to see their community benefit when nationally less than 20 percent of cannabis business owners are minorities.
“I’m not willing to create a market that will allow existing wealthy people to gain wealth and leave out the people that I represent,” said Peoples-Stokes.
Krueger blamed Cuomo’s tepid support for the bill. His ability to twist arms in the last minute for his priority bills has become notorious. Other feels the Senate and Assembly leaders are to blame as well.
New York politics is infamously governed by “Three men in a room”: the Governor, Assembly Speaker, and State Senate President Pro Tempre.
There was significant opposition from law enforcement officials, parent groups, and the drug treatment industry that successfully touted old propaganda during the fight.
In the end, there were more holdout votes from Long Island State Senators than in the Assembly where many believed there were sufficient votes for passage.
Decriminalization was offered as the second best thing for which some proponents are happy. This is seen as a half-measure at best by some since decriminalization does not create a legal industry but merely reduces the penalties to that of driving infractions for possession of up to 50 grams.
The most significant progress that was made this session was that an expungement process was set up to erase the convictions of some.
All is not lost as optimists believe that momentum from this year’s push will enable legalization to pass next year.
Cannabis Marketing Association is hosting a panel discussion in New York City on Monday, August 5th, 2019 at 6:00 pm at The Open Center, “Cannabis Legalization in NYC: Looking Back and Thinking Forward.” Hear from top government, industry, and regulatory experts about what happened and how the industry can advocate for a responsible adult-use bill during the next legislative session. Click here to purchase tickets.