New York Governor Reveals Amendments To Marijuana Legalization Plan Weeks Before Budget Deadline
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has released the full text of amendments to his marijuana legalization plan that he hopes will resolve disagreements with legislative leaders over his original proposal.
The main changes would allow cannabis delivery services, specify how social equity grant funding is distributed and lower the proposed penalty for selling marijuana to people under 21, all of which were previewed earlier last week.
The governor’s revised proposal also includes “technical changes such as modify the adult-use cannabis retail dispenser definition, require returns to be filed electronically, establish the ability to revoke a registration for possession of illicit cannabis and exempt cannabis sold to a person with a research cannabis license from sales and excise taxes,” a summary states.
Cuomo first announced that he would be sending a revised version of his reform proposal to the legislature last Monday and then provided an outline of the changes the next day.
The decision to revise his plan to lower penalties for selling cannabis to those under 21 is directly responsive to criticism from advocates over his original plan. Advocates and legislators said that making such activity a class D felony punishable by up to 2.5 years in prison, as it was initially drafted, was counterproductive to the goal of ending marijuana criminalization and would disproportionately impact black New Yorkers.
Here’s the new text of the penalties provision:
“A person is guilty of criminal sale of cannabis in the third degree when he knowingly and unlawfully sells any amount of cannabis or concentrated cannabis to any person under twenty-one years of age. In any prosecution for unlawful sale of cannabis or concentrated cannabis to someone under twenty-one years of age pursuant to this section, it is an affirmative defense that: (a) the defendant had reasonable cause to believe that the person under twenty-one years of age involved was twenty-one years old or more; and (b) such person under twenty-one years of age exhibited to the defendant a draft card, driver’s license or identification card, birth certificate or other official or apparently official document purporting to establish that such person was twenty-one years old or more. Criminal sale of cannabis in the third degree is a class A Misdemeanor.”
As far as delivery services are concerned, Cuomo said adding the licensing option will open up opportunities to participate in the industry with a lower cost of entry. There would be a local opt-out option for individual jurisdictions to ban delivery services, however. Meanwhile, advocates say that allowing delivery is a crucial component of any legalization plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Here’s the text of the cannabis delivery amendment:
“No adult-use retail dispensary may engage in the home delivery or retail delivery of adult-use cannabis products unless they are specifically approved and licensed to do so, or have contracted with a third-party home delivery licensee. All home delivery operations must be separately approved and licensed by the office and must comply with minimum application, licensing and operation requirements required by the board in regulation. The board may approve adult-use retail dispensaries which engage solely in the retail delivery of adult-use cannabis products without an approved storefront location.”
The amended legalization plan doesn’t seem to increase grant funding as advocates had called for; rather, the governor laid out specifics on how the funds will be managed and what those dollars will specifically support.
Here’s the text of the social equity revision:
“The moneys in the ‘cannabis social equity fund’ shall be administered by the urban development corporation and allocated by the department of state in collaboration with the office of children and family services, the department of labor, the department of health, the division of housing and community renewal, and the office of addiction services, and approved by the director of the division of the budget, to provide grants for qualified community-based nonprofit organizations and approved local government entities for the purpose of reinvesting in communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies.
Such grants shall be used, including but not limited to, to support job placement, job skills services, adult education, mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, housing, financial literacy, community banking, nutrition services, services to address adverse childhood experiences, afterschool and child care services, system navigation services, legal services to address barriers to reentry, including, but not limited to, providing representation and related assistance with expungement, vacatur, substitution and resentencing of marihuana-related convictions, and linkages to medical care, women’s health services and other community-based supportive services. The grants from this program may also be used to further support the social and economic equity program created by article four of the cannabis law and as established by the cannabis control board.”
It remains to be seen whether these amendments will meet the standards of legislative leaders who’ve strongly pushed back against Cuomo’s initial proposal.
Advocates say the changes address some key concerns but don’t go far enough. Under the amendments, for example, home cultivation of cannabis would still be criminalized and there would be no automatic expungements of past convictions.
“It’s good to see that the governor is responding to the concerns being raised, but even with the recent amendments, his proposal falls well short of what’s needed,” Eli Northrup, a New York public defender and member of the reform coalition Smart START NY, told Marijuana Moment.
Bizarrely, Gov. proposal would expand the definition of the term “drug” in the Vehicle & Traffic Law to include “any substance or combination of substances that impair, to any extent, physical or mental abilities.” This is ridiculously broad and unnecessary. Does Red Bull count? pic.twitter.com/YpnA9NpKdA
— Eli Northrup (@EliNorthrup) February 19, 2021
Northrup also took issue with a part of Cuomo’s original proposal that would broadly expand the definition of a “drug” under the state’s impaired driving laws.
“It’s really nonsensical and has no place in a legalization bill,” he said.
A separate, comprehensive bill supported by top lawmakers and advocates that’s been introduced in the legislature does include a home grow option—one of several differences that could make or break an agreement ahead of the April 1 budget deadline.
“It is my hope and desire that New York will legalize adult-use of cannabis this current session in 2021,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D)—who has been especially critical of the governor’s proposal and wants to move forward with the separate legalization bill in the legislature first before starting negotiations with the administration about Cuomo’s plan—recently told Cheddar.
The majority leader has been especially forceful in her call for increased and stable funding for social equity, though she said there could be room for compromise with the governor after lawmakers approve the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).
“He wants to allocate some dollars out of the general fund, and my legislation says that there should be in the statute a percentage of the resources that go directly to the communities that have been negatively impacted,” she said in the interview that was posted on Friday. “The legislation calls for 50 percent reinvestment in communities that have been harmed, but that’s the starting point. But until we get to have the conversation, we can’t negotiate by ourselves. We have to negotiate jointly with [Cuomo]. We haven’t gotten to that point yet.”
Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) told Marijuana Moment in an interview that there would be room for revisions to the 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 made clear when announcing the amendments that he sees the budget process as the way to enact the policy change.
“It is a controversial topic. It’s a controversial and a difficult vote. I get it,” he said. “I believe if we don’t have it done by the budget, we’re not going to get it done. And I think it would be a failing if we don’t get it done this year and I think that would be a mistake.”
“We’re setting up a new bill that reflects the conversations we’ve had, but I’m hopeful that we can come to an agreement and we can get it done,” he added. “But I believe—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.
The push to legalize in New York could also be bolstered by the fact that voters in neighboring New Jersey approved a legalization referendum in November.
Separately, several other bills that focus on medical marijuana have been filed in New York, and they touch on a wide range of topics—from tenants’ rights for medical cannabis patients to health insurance coverage for marijuana products.
This story has been updated to clarify that the expanded definition of “drug” was included in Cuomo’s original proposal and is not part of the new amendments.
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