New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) political future might be murky as he faces an increasing number of calls for resignation in response to sexual harassment allegations. But a bill to legalize marijuana is still in play, with the governor saying on Friday that he and lawmakers are “making good progress” on negotiations and will continue work on it “over the weekend.”
This comes as legislative leaders are preparing action on a reform measure that’s being described as a compromise, with Cuomo at the table. The plan is to hold a vote on a legalization bill before the April 1 budget deadline, giving legislators about two weeks to advance it.
What the legislation will look like is yet to be seen. Advocates have pushed for a bill sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) and Senate Finance Chairwoman Liz Krueger (D) that they feel more effectively addresses issues such as social equity compared to the plan rolled out by the governor as part of his budget request.
“We’ve been working on a marijuana bill. I’ve had a number of conversations with members,” Cuomo said during a press briefing on Friday. “The staff is working on it over this weekend. We’ve been making good progress.”
Krueger echoed that point in a recent interview with Bloomberg, saying lawmakers are “working hard on a three-way agreed upon bill that could pass the legislature before we get to the budget.” She added: “I feel like we are 95 percent there. We have taken some big steps towards getting this done.”
A state budget spokesperson also said that the “administration is working with all parties to pass a comprehensive regulatory structure for adult-use cannabis that prioritizes social equity, social justice, economic development, and the public health and safety of all New Yorkers.”
There’s been speculation that the growing number of sexual harassment allegations against the governor—in addition to controversy over the state’s handling of nursing home COVID-19 death data—would leave him with less political clout to negotiate on behalf of his proposal over that of the lawmakers. Peoples-Stokes said previously that she wanted the legislature to take up her Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) first and then consult the governor’s office about his plan.
But the latest comments suggest that negotiations are moving forward, and action could be imminent. The majority leader said on Thursday that talks “are really good and really fruitful and I’m really encouraged.” In fact, “I’ve never felt this encouraged before.” That’s despite her saying just days earlier that talks with the governor’s office over the legalization legislation had become heated to the point of screaming.
Cuomo proposed amendments to his legislation last month that he hoped would address certain concerns from lawmakers and advocates. The changes primarily concern that issues such as social equity funding and criminal penalties for underage marijuana possession. The revised plan would continue to criminalize people who grow their own marijuana at home, however, and it wouldn’t provide for any additional social equity funding on top of his original plan.
Another factor working against Cuomo is that Democrats now have supermajority control over the legislature, which could empower them to override a potential veto if they were to pass the MRTA against the governor’s wishes.
Meanwhile, New York lawmakers last month held the first public hearing of the year on proposals to legalize cannabis, specifically focusing on budget implications.
Legislators heard testimony during the joint session from two pro-legalization industry representatives and one opponent. Despite their ideological differences when it comes to legalization in general, all three panelists were critical of Cuomo’s reform proposal. The two reform advocates said they would prefer to advance the MRTA over his legislation.
Last month, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D)—who would become governor is Cuomo were to resign or be impeached—told Marijuana Moment in an interview that there would be room for revisions to the current governor’s plan, stating that “much of it is going to be negotiated with the legislature, and all these details can be resolved with their input as well.”
Cuomo said that the changes in his bill reflect “the conversations we’ve had, but I’m hopeful that we can come to an agreement and we can get it done. He added that he believes, “because I’ve seen this movie before, “if we don’t get it done by April 1, we won’t get it done.”
This is the third year in a row that Cuomo has included a legalization proposal in his budget plan. The last two times, negotiations with the legislature stalled amid disagreements over certain components such as the tax structure for the market and funding for social equity programs.
Regardless of which direction the legislature ultimately goes on this issue, there’s growing recognition in the state that legalization is an inevitability.
The top Republican in the New York Assembly said in December that he expects the legislature to legalize cannabis this coming session.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said in November that she also anticipates that the reform will advance in 2021, though she noted that lawmakers will still have to decide on how tax revenue from marijuana sales is distributed.
Cuomo also said that month that the “pressure will be on” to legalize cannabis in the state and lawmakers will approve it “this year” to boost the economy amid the health crisis.