New York lawmakers representing nearly a third of the state Senate on Tuesday prefiled a bill to legalize marijuana.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has emphasized the need to enact the reform in 2021, arguing that it could help offset economic losses from the coronavirus pandemic and promote social equity. And now there’s a new potential vehicle for legalization to happen.
Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and 18 cosponsors filed the legislation, which is identical to a bill she sponsored last year and has now been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. It would make it so adults 21 and older would be able to purchase cannabis and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
This is the fifth version of the legalization bill that the senator has introduced since 2013. But advocates are hopeful that, given the evolved marijuana policy landscape in the region and nationally, as well as the governor’s embrace of reform, this year will see the measure advance.
“It is long past time for New York State to catch up with our neighbors and legalize, tax, and regulate adult-use marijuana,” Krueger told Marijuana Moment. “To my mind the most compelling reason for doing so has always been to end the unnecessary and destructive impact of the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ on communities of color.”
“But now, faced with the impacts of the pandemic, the potential for legalization to create new jobs, economic growth, and out-year tax revenue for the state is more important than ever,” she said. “I am cautiously optimistic about the chances of getting this done and done right—in a way that ensures that resources are directed to communities most directly impacted by the failed policies of prohibition.”
Text of the legislation includes a series of provisions aimed at restorative justice and social equity. For example, it provides for automatic expungements for those with prior cannabis convictions and it also includes low- or zero-interest loans for qualifying equity applicants who wish to start marijuana businesses.
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An 18 percent tax would be imposed on cannabis sales. After covering the costs of implementation, revenue from those taxes would go toward three areas: 25 percent for the state lottery fund, so long as it’s designated for the Department of Education; 25 percent for a drug treatment and public education fund and 50 percent for a community grants reinvestment fund.
The bill could finally give advocates the legislative win they’ve been working towards.
Cuomo has attempted to enact legalization through the budget for the past two years—and he’s expected to give it another try in 2021, based on recent comments from an aide and the governor—but it hasn’t come to fruition. That’d due in large part to disagreements over certain provisions such as the tax structure and where to allocate the resulting revenues
“I look forward to working with the governor and my legislative colleagues to finally make legalization a reality for New Yorkers,” Krueger said of the renewed effort for 2021.
New York lawmakers have made clear their intent to reform the state’s cannabis laws in the new session. Eight separate bills that focus on medical marijuana were recently prefiled, and they touch on a wide range of topics—from tenants’ rights for medical cannabis patients to health insurance coverage for marijuana products.
The top Republican in the New York Assembly said last month that he expects the legislature to legalize cannabis this coming session, for example.
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.
“You have such a [budget] gap now,” he said. “I think it’s going to be an easier conversation.”
Senate Democrats are on better footing to advocate for policies they favor since they secured a supermajority during November’s election. If Cuomo were to veto any bill over details he didn’t like, they could potentially have enough votes to override him.
“New York still has the opportunity to lead on cannabis legalization by establishing the most ambitious legalization program in the country and implementing cannabis legalization from a social justice lens, where other states have fallen short,” Melissa Moore, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Governor Cuomo and the legislature can cement New York as the national model for marijuana legalization by centering community reinvestment, equity and justice within our comprehensive reform.”
“We can do this,” she said, “by making our legalization effort one that benefits those who have been harmed by prohibition and focusing on creating equitable jobs and small businesses across the state as New York looks to recover from the pandemic.”
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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.