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How New York Marijuana Legalization Efforts Could Be Impacted By Cuomo’s Scandals

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) growing number of scandals in recent weeks over harassment allegations and nursing home death data could leave him with even less political capital to defend his marijuana legalization proposal against a competing reform bill favored by leading lawmakers and activists.

While the governor has pushed the legislature to pass his measure as part of a budget plan, he’s faced pushback from certain members who feel it doesn’t go far enough to promote social equity and that they should advance their own version first before entering into negotiations with the administration.

That was before numerous women came forward accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment and unwanted advances during his time in office. While he’s apologized over certain behavior, he’s denied other claims such as one alleging that he kissed a former aide without consent.

Now, as the governor is increasingly being backed against the wall and facing calls for resignation by legislative leaders, it stands to reason that he’s on even worse footing to promote his own cannabis bill over that of Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger (D) and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D).

Both lawmakers took part in a NY Women in Cannabis Lobby Day organized by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and Women Grow on Monday. But while they each pushed for the passage of their bill—the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)—they did not directly weigh in on how, if at all, the governor’s mounting controversies could impact those prospects.

“We cannot stop. As a matter of fact, we need to start pounding a little harder—not just on the governor, but on people across the state,” Peoples-Stokes said. The leader also said polling on legalization shows that, if New York had a referendum process to place the issue on the ballot, it would pass and “we wouldn’t be having this conversation now.”

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.

The governor has attempted to assuage concerns with his plan by submitting amendments to the legislation that deal with issues such as social equity funding and criminal penalties for underage marijuana possession. But the window to enact his bill as part of the budget is quickly closing, with an April 1 deadline, and it doesn’t seem he’s any closer to moving advocates to his side, especially now.

Even his revised plan would continue to criminalize people who grow their own marijuana at home, and it wouldn’t provide for any additional social equity funding on top of his original plan.

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.

D.C. Can Take Steps Toward Legalizing Marijuana Sales Amid Congressional Ban, Feds Conclude

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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