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New York Lawmakers Divided On Marijuana Legalization Study Proposal

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The State of New York might conduct a study on marijuana legalization. Or it might not. That depends on which chamber of the legislature prevails on the issue in ongoing budget negotiations.

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) proposed an official examination of the possibility of ending cannabis prohibition in his budget proposal.

“Notwithstanding any inconsistent provisions of law, so much funds as shall be determined necessary by the commissioner of health, shall be available for the office of public health to conduct a study in consultation with other state agencies, to review, including but not limited to, the health, criminal justice, and economic impacts of a regulated marijuana program in the state of New York; including the consequences to the state of New York resulting from legalization in surrounding states,” the provision reads.

Last week, the heavily Democratic state Assembly agreed, including the plan in its budget resolution.

But the Republican-controlled Senate disagreed, explicitly rejecting the governor’s proposal in its own budget resolution.

“The Senate denies the Executive recommendation to…allow for DOH to study regulated marihuana,” that chamber’s legislation reads, nonetheless adding the qualifier that the body is “sensitive to the State’s desire to study the consequences to the State of New York resulting from the legalization of marihuana in surrounding states.”

Cuomo, a longtime opponent of marijuana law reform who forced lawmakers to significantly scale back a proposed medical cannabis program before agreeing to sign it into law in 2014, surprised many observers by including the proposed legalization study in his budget this year.

The move was spurred by moves to end cannabis prohibition in neighboring states. In New Jersey, for example, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalization last year and included tax revenue from possible marijuana sales in a budget proposal released this month.

New Jersey Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization In Budget Proposal

“The world is changing all around us. New Jersey is talking about legalizing recreational marijuana. Massachusetts has legalized recreational marijuana. On the other hand the federal government is saying they’re going to get aggressive against states that are legalizing marijuana. So this is a topic of concern,” Cuomo said in an interview after releasing the proposal. “I say let’s get some facts so we actually have an informed debate on the issue, and that’s what the study will do.”

Joel Giambra, a former Erie County executive who is mounting an independent bid to challenge Cuomo’s reelection this year, supports legalizing outright. His campaign commissioned its own report, which concluded that the move would generate $500 million in new annual tax revenue.

“There’s no more need to study this,” he said. “It’s time to be aggressive. It’s time to be proactive.”

Legalization bills are currently pending in the Senate and Assembly. While Assembly committees conducted a joint hearing on the issue earlier this year, no votes have yet been scheduled.

In the meantime, whether or not the state conducts the formal legalization study will depend on the results of behind-closed-doors negotiations this spring between the governor, the Senate president and the Assembly speaker to craft a final spending plan for Fiscal Year 2019.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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