new york marijuana legalization effort on hold

Provisions to legalize adult-use marijuana didn’t make it into New York’s annual budget before the April 1 deadline.

Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo said cannabis legalization was a “top priority” for this legislative session, the coronavirus outbreak in the state, particularly in the city of New York, means the push is “effectively over” for this year. When asked about cannabis legalization at a recent press briefing, Cuomo responded “too much [to deal with], too little time.”

The governor said dealing with the pandemic throughout the state, which has become the global epicenter of the disease, is the main priority and that pursuing cannabis legalization is too complex a matter for the time-being.

“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” Cuomo said. “Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added before acknowledging several state lawmakers who are currently in isolation battling the disease.

As recently as the end of March, Cuomo had stuck to his guns and told reporters his administration would continue to try and pass their proposed budget, including cannabis legalization.

“We will pass a budget and address the policy items that we laid out and discussed [in January],” Cuomo said during a press briefing on March 23. Those items include banning flavored e-cigarettes, adjusting certain cash-bail reforms and legalizing adult-use cannabis. “We are going to pursue all of them,” Cuomo said.

The lead sponsor of legislation to legalize marijuana, Sen. Liz Krueger (D), was not so optimistic. She felt lawmakers didn’t have time amid the coronavirus crisis to work out details such as licensing, sales, and harmonizing approaches with neighboring states by the April 1 deadline.

“I don’t believe marijuana is going to be negotiated in this budget in the next few days,” said Krueger, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee which negotiates the state budget. “I just don’t see it as realistic.”

For the past two years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included cannabis legalization in his budget proposal to state lawmakers. It was dropped from the budget last year largely due to disagreements among lawmakers over how tax revenue would be allocated. Cuomo then expressed a commitment to passing a standalone legalization bill later in the year but this didn’t amount to anything.

Marijuana legalization advocates were hopeful that this would be the year that lawmakers would finally come to a deal. Cuomo revised his cannabis legalization plan in the face of lawmaker opposition to include new provisions for the industry’s regulation and taxation, as well as increased enforcement powers to stem the illicit trade. But now with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the state to its knees and occupying all the efforts of lawmakers, the push to legalize cannabis is on hold.

While Cuomo appears to have given up on passing legislation to legalize marijuana this year, Sen. Krueger still sees a way forward according to Justin Flagg, her spokesperson.”If it can’t get done in the budget in the middle of a public health crisis that is also a fiscal crisis, there is no reason the legislature can’t negotiate and pass a nation-leading legalization model when the immediate crisis is over,” Flagg said.

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