For the third straight year, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana for adults in New York. At a press briefing on Wednesday, the first day of the legislative session, the governor sounded an optimistic, if strikingly familiar, note on the prospects of legalization.
"This is a year where we do need the funding, a lot of New Yorkers are struggling," Cuomo said. "I think this year will give us the momentum to get it over the goal line."
The governor's proposal would create an Office of Cannabis Management, as part of a "comprehensive system to oversee and regulate" adult-use marijuana. Once up and running, the program is estimated to bring in $300 million in annual revenue to the state's badly depleted coffers.
The announcement comes almost exactly one year after the governor vowed that legalization would be a priority for the 2020 legislative session. "This year, let's work with our neighbors in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, to coordinate a safe and fair system," Cuomo said at the time.
In a November ballot referendum, New Jersey voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana. To date, at least fifteen states — including South Dakota and Montana — have green lit recreational cannabis.
But despite Democrats holding a majority in the New York Senate, the legalization effort was dropped from the state budget last year. Cuomo blamed the coronavirus pandemic, saying there was not enough time to hammer out the details of a legalization framework.
The proposal failed in 2018 as well, thanks to opposition from suburban Democrats, amid rumors that Cuomo abandoned the effort.
The governor's latest proposal states that communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war, be given licensing opportunities and business assistance for marijuana sales. Further details on that initiative are expected to be revealed during Cuomo's upcoming State of the State address next week.
Melissa Moore, the deputy state director for Drug Policy Alliance, said New York had a chance to "come from behind" and lead the nation in centering communities hit hardest by marijuana prohibition.
She cited the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), first introduced in 2013 by State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, as the "gold standard" of bills in terms of equity. The legislation lays out a framework in which half of marijuana tax revenue after program costs would go towards community grants and reinvestment funds.
"The effects of the marijuana arrest crusade continue to haunt people across the state," Moore told Gothamist. "As we're flipping the playbook, we have to do it in a way that's responsive to those decades of harm."