New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said on Tuesday that passing marijuana legalization before the end of the legislative session is a top-10 priority.
Efforts to legalize cannabis through the legislature have stalled in part due to a changing political dynamic in light of neighboring New Jersey’s failure to get a legalization bill over the finish line this year and because some senators want voters to first approve the idea of ending cannabis prohibition through a referendum, he said.
But in two separate radio interviews, the governor challenged lawmakers to capitalize on a growing pro-legalization sentiment and get a bill to his desk before the session ends on June 19.
Cuomo seemed open to the prospect of a referendum vote, but he made clear that the fight in the legislature isn’t over yet. He expressed frustration that lawmakers are falling short of their legalization promise for political reasons and not necessarily because they take issue with the merits of cannabis reform.
A revised version of a pending legalization bill was introduced in the legislature on Friday, with new provisions that would allow for the expungement of records for prior cannabis-related convictions and set guidelines for the production, processing and sale of marijuana, for example.
Cuomo’s original plan was to include cannabis legalization in the state budget but, after failing to reach compromises with legislators ahead of the April 1 deadline, it was ultimately cut from the spending package. That version included some provisions that proved controversial for advocates, including a ban on home cultivation that several large marijuana businesses pushed for.
The amended version of the pending standalone bill does provide for home cultivation.
Cuomo said the expungement addition wasn’t a “dealbreaker”—even though his initial proposal called for the the less-far-reaching step of sealing of records—but added that some thorny questions still have to be resolved such as setting limits on home cultivation, how tax revenue from cannabis sales should be spent and who should be responsible for issuing licenses for dispensaries.
“But I don’t think the issue here is even that. I don’t think it’s going to be on the merits—I think it’s on the politics,” he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer. “New Jersey was going to legalize it. New Jersey stopped. I think that started to shift the political environment.”
Listen to Cuomo discuss marijuana politics around 10:00 into the audio below:
Cuomo cited senators who’ve told reporters that there isn’t enough support in the chamber “to pass it politically.”
“I think that’s the problem here, is the political reality that you don’t have the votes in the Senate,” he said. “I support it, I proposed, but we’re getting down to the final three weeks or so, and they’re still saying they don’t have the votes.”
The host asked Cuomo if it was possible that lawmakers could reach compromises on certain provisions to get the legislation passed before the session’s end. Allowing individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate could represent one such compromise, Lehrer said.
“I’ve tried a number of things. The opting out provision I’ve tried,” Cuomo said. “The opposition Senate position is there is no state that has passed it without a referendum. It’s never been done just by the legislature.”
“I believe Jersey may be moving to a referendum also, but Massachusetts, et cetera, the legislature acted after a referendum,” he added. “So that’s what the senators who oppose it say—they think it’s an overreach by the legislature.”
New Jersey lawmakers announced earlier this month that after months of debate and negotiations, they were not able to reach a compromise on legalization legislation and would instead focus on getting the issue on the state’s 2020 ballot.
It’s possible that New York could see a ballot referendum on the issue to get a “sense of the people,” Cuomo said. Theoretically, voters could approve a legalization referendum and the legislature could then take action. But the governor repeated that it’s politics that’s holding back legislative reform and “everything else is smoke.”
“The Senate promised in their campaign—we have a Democratic Senate now for the first time, and I supported them and I worked very hard for them—and this was one of the big campaign issues,” Cuomo said. “And the senators say that they don’t have the votes, and at the end of the day if you don’t have the votes, you don’t have the votes.”
Even so, Cuomo didn’t rule out the possibility of passing cannabis legalization this session, despite the issue being “very difficult.”
He told WAMC in a separate interview on Tuesday that marijuana reform remains a central tenet of his agenda, even if he’s facing a resistance in the Senate.
@cuomo tells @AlanChartock he has 10 items on his list:
-paid birth surrogacy
-ERA in state constitution
-end statute of limitations for rape
-end gay panic defense
-drivers licenses for the undocumented
— FRED MOGUL (@fredmogul) May 28, 2019
(You can listen to the conversation by following this link; the discussion on cannabis starts at about 11:00.)
“They have work to do,” he said. “They are stopping surrogacy, they are stopping the ERA, they are stopping marijuana, they are stopping drivers licenses, they are stopping prevailing wages, they are stopping gay panic defense.”
Legislators “need to get things done if they’re going to vindicate the promise they made the people of this state when we elected a Democratic Senate and we promised the most progressive laws in the country,” he said.
Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording
President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.
“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.
Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote
Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.
The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”
The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.
“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.
The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.
The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.
The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.
Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.
But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.