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New York Governor Unveils Updated Marijuana Legalization Plan For 2021

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The governor of New York unveiled basic details about his proposed marijuana legalization plan for 2021 on Wednesday.

One day after lawmakers representing nearly one-third of the state Senate prefiled a separate comprehensive cannabis reform bill, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said legalization “should have been passed years ago.”

It was expected that the governor would be putting forward another legalization proposal, as he’s included the reform in annual fiscal plans over the past two years and often discussed the need to generate tax revenue from marijuana sales to boost the state economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Watch Cuomo discuss cannabis below:

“I think too many people have been imprisoned and incarcerated and punished,” Cuomo said at a press briefing on Wednesday. “Too many of those people are black, Latino and poor. It’s exaggerated the injustice of the justice system.”

“For years I’ve tried to pass it, but this is a year where we do need the funding and a lot of New Yorkers are struggling, so I think this year will give us the momentum to get it over the goal line,” he added. “As everyone knows, Massachusetts has legalized marijuana. New Jersey is going to legalize marijuana. So, what are we really talking about at this point?”

Cuomo’s proposal involves establishing a new Office of Cannabis Management to regulate the state’s marijuana and hemp industries.

The governor’s office said the plan will create “an equitable structure” for the cannabis market “by offering licensing opportunities and assistance to entrepreneurs in communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.”

The state is expected to generate $300 million in annual marijuana tax revenue once the program is fully operational.

“Despite the many challenges New York has faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also created a number of opportunities to correct longstanding wrongs and build New York back better than ever before,” Cuomo said in a press release. “Not only will legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provide the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also allows us to directly support the individuals and communities that have been most harmed by decades of cannabis prohibition.”

While few additional details are available about the governor’s plan, his office said it “reflects national standards and emerging best practices to promote responsible use, limiting the sale of cannabis products to adults 21 and over and establishing stringent quality and safety controls including strict regulation of the packaging, labeling, advertising and testing of all cannabis products.”

“Cannabis regulation also offers the opportunity to invest in research and direct resources to communities that have been most impacted by cannabis prohibition,” the announcement says.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said on Wednesday that she agrees with Cuomo that “our State needs to finally legalize recreational marijuana with an equitable program that generates much-needed revenue for New York.”

The separate bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and 18 other lawmakers this week is identical to a version she filed last year that did not advance.

While legislators and the governor are both generally in favor of ending prohibition and establishing a regulated marijuana market, there have been ongoing disagreements over certain provisions such as the tax structure and where to allocate the resulting revenues.

It’s immediately not clear to what extent Cuomo’s new plan will address those concerns, but it is the case that the legislature will have more influence this year after Senate Democrats secured a supermajority in the November election. If the governor were to veto any bill over details he didn’t like, they could potentially have enough votes to override him.


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New York lawmakers increasingly regard legalization as inevitable, despite differing opinions on the specifics.

The top Republican in the New York Assembly said last month 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 next year, 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, eight other bills that focus on medical marijuana were recently prefiled 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.

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Photo elements courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Carlos Gracia.

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