New York lawmakers on Tuesday held the first public hearing of the year on proposals to legalize marijuana, specifically focusing on budget implications.
In a joint session with members of the Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Ways & Means Committee, legislators heard testimony from two pro-legalization industry representatives and one opponent, Kevin Sabet of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
Notably, despite their ideological differences when it comes to legalization in general, all three panelists were critical of the reform proposal that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included in his budget request.
NY Cannabis Growers and Processors Association President Allan Gandelman and NY Medical Cannabis Industry Association President Ngiste Abebe both said they favor a legalization measure out of the legislature—the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)—arguing that its tax structure and social equity provisions are superior to the governor’s plan, even after Cuomo submitted amendments in hopes of shoring up support among skeptical lawmakers.
“We deeply appreciate the possibilities offered in the MRTA. New York will need to balance issues involving taxes, licensing and speed to market,” Gandelman said. “The MRTA does an excellent job allowing for social consumption, cannabis home grow, microbusinesses, home delivery and funding for social equity applicants. These policies should be, without question, integrated into any final legislation enacted by the state.”
Watch the joint public hearing on marijuana legalization in New York below:
Cuomo did propose amending his legalization plan to add a home delivery option and specify how social equity grants for cannabis businesses would be distributed—but advocates say it still falls short of the MRTA, sponsored by Sen. Liz Kreuger (D), chair of the Finance Committee.
Abebe, who also serves as public policy director for Columbia Care, said that her organization believes “the governor’s proposal could be improved as well—and then, between the [Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act] and the MRTA, there is a pathway to effective legalization in New York.”
But the April 1 deadline to get those improvements included in Cuomo’s budget plan and pass the legislation is quickly approaching, and legislative leadership has indicated that they’d prefer to pass the MRTA first and then begin negotiations with the governor’s office.
“It is my hope and desire that New York will legalize adult-use of cannabis this current session in 2021,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), who has been especially critical of the governor’s proposal, recently said.
Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) told Marijuana Moment in an interview that there would be room for revisions to the governor’s plan, stating that “much of it is going to be negotiated with the legislature, and all these details can be resolved with their input as well.”
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Cuomo said that the changes in his bill reflect “the conversations we’ve had, but I’m hopeful that we can come to an agreement and we can get it done. He added that he believes, “because I’ve seen this movie before, “if we don’t get it done by April 1, we won’t get it done.”
This is the third year in a row that Cuomo has included a legalization proposal in his budget plan. The last two times, negotiations with the legislature stalled amid disagreements over certain components such as the tax structure for the market and funding for social equity programs.
Regardless of which direction the legislature ultimately goes on this issue, there’s growing recognition in the state that legalization is an inevitability.
The top Republican in the New York Assembly said in December 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 in 2021, 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, several other bills that focus on medical marijuana have been filed 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.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.