The governor of New York said on Monday that he expects lawmakers to push ahead with plans to legalize marijuana even as the state works to address the coronavirus pandemic.
During a briefing on the public health crisis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was asked about his legislative priorities for the budget, which is facing an April 1 deadline to get passed. While he recognized that there are certain policy items he included in his proposal to lawmakers that are more complicated and may have to be delayed, he said the legislature should still pursue cannabis legalization.
“We will pass a budget and address the policy items that we laid out and we discussed because it’s not just about passing a budget and the numbers,” Cuomo said. “There are many policy initiatives that I laid out back in January, and we’re going to pursue all of them.”
“The only caveat was if you have a really complex issue that normally would require weeks of nuanced, detailed negotiation to do it right, that we won’t do. Because I don’t want to pass any bills that are not really intelligent that I then have to come back and deal with again next year,” he said. “If it’s a highly complex issue, I get it and then let’s put it off because we don’t want to do something sloppy.”
While the governor didn’t explicitly state that marijuana reform represented one of those complex issues that needs more time, past experience in the legislature indicates it may be. Cuomo included legalization in his budget last year, but that didn’t pan out as negotiations failed to produce passable legislation as disagreements persisted on issues such as how to allocate tax revenue.
“Amid the coronavirus pandemic, we recognize that New York is facing a very challenging moment and appreciate the work of our elected officials to both navigate these turbulent waters and keep their eyes on long-term policy priorities for our state,” Kassandra Frederique of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said in a press release.
“DPA’s position is that if the state legislature and Governor are going to have substantive discussions about adult use legalization for the budget, then the conversation must center marijuana justice,” she said. “It is exceedingly important for New York to do legalization right—our regulation framework must center people who have been impacted by the drug war, create equity and diversity, and support small businesses and farmers. It is crucial for New York’s legalization effort to focus economic justice and reinvesting in communities, especially given the current landscape.”
Cuomo has repeatedly insisted that the reform move should be advanced through the budget, raising doubts about the legislature’s ability to enact legalization in a timely fashion otherwise. Earlier this month, he told reporters that “without the budget, the easiest thing for a legislative body to do is to do nothing.”
“I want to do legalizing marijuana,” he said at the Monday press conference, adding that he also wants to achieve a controversial bail reform measure through the budget.
Top lawmakers have also weighed in on the prospects of legalizing cannabis in the state in recent weeks, with a key sponsor of a comprehensive reform bill telling Marijuana Moment last week that “while it is important that we end marijuana prohibition as soon as possible, it is also important that it be done the right way.”
Sen. Liz Krueger (D) said there’s “no reason we cannot negotiate and pass a nation-leading legalization model when the crisis is over.”
Part of the governor’s plan to enact a legal cannabis model was to tour certain states that have legalized, but he indicated earlier this month that the trip would have to be delayed amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The coronavirus outbreak has interfered with drug policy reform initiatives across the U.S., with campaigns stretching from California to Washington, D.C. requesting that state governments allow individuals to sign petitions electronically to qualify their measures for November ballots.
This story has been updated to include comment from DPA.
Photo courtesy of New York Governor.