With just days left before the end of the legislative session, efforts to legalize marijuana in New York have been revived, with a possible vote this coming week.
Though momentum to pass a legalization measure seemed to largely die off after lawmakers in neighboring New Jersey announced they wouldn’t move forward with plans to end cannabis prohibition through the legislature, advocates are increasingly optimistic that a deal in the Empire State is imminent.
Democratic members in both the Senate and Assembly held conferences last week to discuss details of the legislation. Spectrum News reported that the meetings went well, with members indicating that there’s support for the measure.
That’s just one of several positive signs that a proposal many observers thought was dead for the year has new life.
On Saturday and Sunday, staff for legislative leaders from both chambers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) met to negotiate provisions of a revised legalization plan.
Source says three way talks on marijuana taking place today in Albany among staff of two legislative leaders and @NYGovCuomo
Final bill expected to be posted Sunday night
— Zack Fink (@ZackFinkNews) June 15, 2019
On Wednesday, an earlier Senate version of the bill was assigned “same as” status in the Assembly version. That means the current proposals in each chamber lined up with identical language and is considered to be an indicator that the legislation could pass.
— Mike Baggerman (@MikeBaggerman) June 14, 2019
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said on Friday that his party has yet to determine whether they’ll bring the bill to the floor, but he added that “I think there is support in the conference.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters his conference hasn't made a decision yet on whether to put a bill legalizing marijuana on the floor for a vote.
"We haven't made a final decision yet, but I think there is support in the conference," he said.
— Jon Campbell (@JonCampbellGAN) June 14, 2019
He also characterized the window of time until the end of the session on Wednesday as “an eternity.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says there is no final determination on a marijuana legalization bill, but notes there is “an eternity” between now and the end of session on Wednesday.
— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) June 14, 2019
Cuomo, who said late last month that passing legalization remains a top 10 priority, has said that lawmakers who fail to approve items on his agenda, including ending cannabis prohibition, “should all be primaried, because that is a failure of a basic progressive agenda.”
On the flip side, the chairman of New York’s Democratic Party said earlier this month that if the Senate approves the legalization bill, they run to risk of alienating voters in certain areas such as Long Island and upstate New York. But that argument neglects to account for recent polling that shows voters in those regions strongly support legalization.
Notably, the measure’s most vocal opponents with the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana have been sending email blasts in recent days urging their supports to call senators and voice opposition to the bill, giving the impression that the group is anticipating a vote.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), sponsor of the legalization legislation, seemed to confirm that suspicion on Friday, stating that after “conversations with my co-sponsor and colleague in the Senate, I am even more confident of a path for victory.”
.@CPeoplesStokes on status of marijuana legislation: "After conversations with my co-sponsor and colleague in the Senate, I am even more confident of a path for victory."
— Yancey Roy (@YanceyRoy) June 14, 2019
But despite that confidence, the fate of legalization in New York remains murky. An analysis earlier this month found that legalization was two votes short of a needed majority in the Senate.
Meanwhile, a number of key elected officials are calling on the governor and lawmakers to not only push legalization over the finish line but to include certain key provisions in the final legislation.
State Attorney General Letitia James (D) sent a letter urging that the bill expunge prior cannabis records.
“Before we create a booming business for legal marijuana, we must provide relief to those individuals that have paid much more to society than what was due,” she wrote.
Legalizing marijuana is a racial & criminal justice imperative. If we truly want a more fair system, we must ensure that those who were unjustly harmed be given a clean slate.
That means providing full expungement for those convicted for non-violent marijuana offenses. https://t.co/jt8lEkrnz7
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) June 16, 2019
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), a 2020 presidential candidate, also pushed for expungements and said in a Twitter thread that legalization should “empower local business and not big corporations.”
With only a few days left this session in Albany, we have a small window to legalize marijuana the RIGHT way.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) June 16, 2019
We can right the wrongs of the past. We can bring fairness to communities of color. We can empower local business and not big corporations.
We have to keep the focus and bring this home.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) June 16, 2019
And the Manhattan and Albany County district attorneys co-authored an op-ed calling leaders to “correct staggering inequities and promote public safety by passing” legalization.
DA Vance, @AlbanyCountyDA: "In the final days of session, Gov. Cuomo and state legislators must correct staggering inequities and promote public safety by passing the Marijuana Revenue and Taxation Act." #MarijuanaJustice ⚖️ @DrugPolicyOrg https://t.co/ESuMjAR03q
— Cyrus Vance, Jr. (@ManhattanDA) June 14, 2019
The Buffalo News reported on Sunday afternoon that there were still a number of outstanding issues left to be settled between lawmakers, including whether or not home cultivation of cannabis would be allowed, how tax revenue would be allocated and whether localities would have to proactively opt in to allowing marijuana businesses or if there would instead be an opt out provision for those wanting to ban cannabis commerce.
Marijuana Update: Talks continue in Albany at this hour, with one insider describing it’s chances as “50/50.”
At issue is where the revenue from legalization would go.
Source says @NYGovCuomo and legislature disagree on who is most in need.
Others say Cuomo wants his bill only.
— Zack Fink (@ZackFinkNews) June 17, 2019
The session ends on Wednesday, and so far no vote has been scheduled in either chamber.
Meanwhile, lawmakers early on Monday morning filed what appears to be backup legislation to expand the decriminalization of marijuana and to provide a process to expunge or vacate prior cannabis convictions. And others support putting legalization on the ballot through a referendum that voters can decide on.
The situation is very fluid, and over the next few days advocates will be stepping up the push for action in Albany. On Sunday, they held a rally outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office.
How many NY dads have been criminalized & separated from kids bc of broken pot laws?
— VOCAL-NY (@VOCALNewYork) June 16, 2019
This post has been updated to include the latest developments as well as comment from a number of elected officials.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Bernie Sanders Asks Campaign Rally Audience To Share Stories About Marijuana Arrests
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked an audience in South Carolina to share stories about marijuana possession convictions and then argued that those anecdotes help to demonstrate the case for national legalization.
During a campaign stop in the early primary state on Sunday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate asked people to raise their hands if they knew someone who’d been arrested for possessing cannabis. There was no shortage of hands raised.
“Holy God, whoa. That’s a lot of people,” Sanders said before asking for volunteers to go into detail.
“I got caught with about a joint and they took my license for a year and I lost my job,” an audience member said. “Ended up losing my house, and it went worse from there.”
The War on Drugs has been a disaster. It is time to legalize marijuana nationwide. pic.twitter.com/tehuM7xjxx
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) September 17, 2019
“Wow, this is for smoking a joint?” Sanders asked.
“Yeah, I had a little—like a dime bag in my car,” the person said.
Another person in attendance who appeared in the campaign video Sanders released on Tuesday said that she visited a guilty plea court and witnessed “three different men get put in at least two years of prison just for anywhere from two grams to eight grams of marijuana found on them.”
“That’s why all over this country states are doing the right thing and either decriminalizing or legalizing the possession of marijuana,” Sanders said to applause.
Since becoming the first major party presidential candidate to call for cannabis legalization in 2015, Sanders has continued to place an emphasis on the need for marijuana reform, with a focus on the racial injustices of prohibition.
Last month, he released a criminal justice reform plan that included proposals to legalize cannabis federally and also provide for safe injection sites to curb opioid overdoses.
But while Sanders has been a leading voice in the drug policy reform movement, he’s said twice in recent weeks that he’s not ready to embrace decriminalizing possession of drugs beside marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull.
New York Gov. Cuomo Hints Marijuana Smoking Ban Could Be Part Of Next Legalization Push
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) seemed to suggest that he might want a ban on smoking marijuana included in legalization legislation when lawmakers take up the issue again next year.
During an interview with MSNBC on Sunday, the governor was asked whether the spike in apparent vaping-related lung injuries and deaths, which experts attribute to altered nicotine and cannabis oils primarily purchased on the illicit market, has made him reconsider pursuing legalization in the state.
“No,” he said, adding that his administration is “not in favor of smoking marijuana” and that there are “ways to get THC without smoking marijuana.”
“People are vaping THC, yes that is true,” Cuomo said. “We think that from a public health point of view, that is not something that we recommend and we think it’s dangerous—smoking of any kind.”
“You can legalize marijuana and sell THC in compounds that do not require you to smoke the marijuana, and we do not support smoking of marijuana,” he said. “There are compounds that have the THC, which is a compound in marijuana, that you don’t smoke.”
It’s not entirely clear if Cuomo plans to ask for a smoking ban the next time a legalization bill emerges or if he was simply outlining an administrative position advising against smoking. A spokesperson for his office did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment by the time of publication.
But while there was no ban on marijuana smoking included in legalization legislation that he worked to pass earlier this year, it wouldn’t be entirely out of character given that he pushed for such a restriction as part of New York’s medical cannabis program in legislation enacted in 2014.
The logic behind that policy, according to Cuomo, was that it would prevent people from abusing the program. If he moved to incorporate a ban for adult-use legalization, however, it would presumably be a public health decision.
That could create problems when lawmakers return to the negotiating table. In California, flower and concentrates represent about 70 percent of the marijuana market, meaning any attempt to ban smokeable cannabis will likely be met with pushback from consumers, industry stakeholders and civil liberties-minded reform advocates.
Industry players seemed to have influence when Cuomo included a ban on home cultivation for personal use in his prior legalization proposal—something a major medical cannabis association recommended in a policy statement submitted to the governor.
For the time being, however, there don’t seem to be tangible plans to include a smoking ban in future cannabis legislation and it could be that the governor simply ends up pushing for public education campaigns discouraging the activity rather than keeping it illegal.
In July, he signed legislation broadening New York’s decriminalization law and creating a pathway for expungements for individuals with prior cannabis convictions.
Photo courtesy of MSNBC.
Mitch McConnell Tells FDA To Clear A Path For CBD Products Though Spending Bill Directive
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is moving to insert language into a congressional spending report that calls on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clear a path for the lawful marketing of hemp-derived CBD products.
FDA has said that allowing CBD to be sold as food items or dietary supplements would require it to develop alternative regulations that could take years to complete without congressional action. But McConnell, who was the chief proponent of a hemp legalization provision of the 2018 Farm Bill, isn’t interested in waiting around.
In draft language shared by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable on Tuesday, the senator is asking FDA to “issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD” within 120 days—a move that industry stakeholders say will clarify rules so that banks are more willing to service CBD companies.
🚨 BREAKING FDA UPDATE 🚨 After close work with the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, @senatemajldr Mitch McConnell submitted legislation urging the FDA to take action on CBD. Visit the link in bio to take action! pic.twitter.com/zMohlD3NiS
— US Hemp Roundtable (@HempRoundtable) September 17, 2019
The provision of the spending report was marked up in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture on Tuesday. It will go before the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
Prior to issuing its enforcement discretion policy under McConnell’s report language, FDA would have to submit a report to the committee within 90 days detailing its “progress toward obtaining and analyzing data to help determine a policy of enforcement discretion, and the process in which CBD meeting the definition of hemp will be evaluated for use in products.”
Once those provisional enforcement guidelines are established, they would remain in place until FDA finalizes the regulatory process.
“FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs,” the report states.
Outside of McConnell’s proposal, the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) appropriations legislation already sets aside $2 million to support research and regulatory activities surrounding hemp-derived CBD products and $16.5 million for the broader hemp production program.
During the subcommittee meeting on Thursday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) praised the bill’s support for hemp legalization implementation.
“You might note that this year in Oregon, the hemp industry may well be a billion dollar crop, and that is an incredible addition to income for our agricultural community,” he said.
The legalization of hemp and its derivatives has been met with intense interest from manufacturers and lawmakers alike, but limitations on the marketability of CBD has been an ongoing source of frustration.
Last week, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers asked fellow House members to join them in signing a letter to the head of FDA that similarly asks for enforcement discretion guidelines allowing companies to sell CBD products.
The House, which approved its version of appropriations legislation for the upcoming fiscal year prior to the summer recess, included a separate amendment that would require FDA to establish rules providing for the lawful marketing of CBD in food and dietary supplements.
Meanwhile, USDA is expected to soon release its broader hemp regulations soon.
Read McConnell’s full CBD report language below:
“As previously mentioned, the Committee provides $2,000,000 for research, policy evaluation, market surveillance, issuance of an enforcement discretion policy, and appropriate regulatory activities with respect to products under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration which contain cannabidiol (CBD) and meet the definition of hemp, as set forth in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o). Within 90 days, FDA shall provide the Committee with a report regarding the Agency’s progress toward obtaining and analyzing data to help determine a policy of enforcement discretion, and the process in which CBD meeting the definition of hemp will be evaluated for use in products. Within 120 days, FDA shall issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD meeting the definition of hemp as defined by section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1964 (7 U.S.C. 1639). Such enforcement discretion shall be in effect until FDA establishes a process for stakeholders to notify FDA for use of CBD in products that include safety studies for intended use per product, and makes a determination about such product. FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs.”
This story was updated to include comment from Merkley.
Photo courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.