Meetings between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and a top lawmaker have gotten contentious in recent days. But the conversations haven’t focused on the slew of scandals surrounding the governor that are making headlines; rather, they’ve concentrated on negotiations over marijuana legalization.
During an interview with Spectrum News that was published on Tuesday, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) was asked about the status of budget talks with the governor’s office. She said “I’ve talked to him a couple times—I kind of screamed on him a little bit about some of the negotiations we are having regarding the marijuana bill because it is way over time to get that done.”
“There’s really no more red herrings that can be thrown up to make this a reality for New York State,” she said. “So yes, I have pressed on him and I have pressed on his people, and the staff of the Assembly has been working very aggressively with him on this topic. I’m really hopeful that that has happens this time.”
Cuomo has talked repeatedly about the need to enact legalization through the budget, but his plan differs in significant ways from a bill that’s been introduced in the legislature and has the backing of major advocacy groups. And while negotiations are ongoing, some have been left wondering if recent allegations by former aides accusing the governor of sexual harassment would derail the process and again delay cannabis reform.
On the other hand, there’s a line of thinking that Cuomo’s dual scandals concerning the harassment allegations and blame over discrepancies in nursing home data on coronavirus deaths could embolden lawmakers to do exactly what Peoples-Stokes has proposed in the past: approve her Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) first and then negotiate details on a final plan with the governor’s office.
But while Cuomo, who has faced calls for resignation and impeachment, may well have less political capital to enact the policy change his way, the leader seemed to suggest that legislators are still keeping the door open in their budget talks, even if there’s some screaming to be had at the negotiating table as an April 1 deadline to approve the budget quickly approaches.
A coalition of more than 40 groups vested in reform—including the New York State AFL-CIO, Weedmaps, Eaze, the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association and Scotts Miracle Gro—are putting additional pressure on the legislature to adopt the policy change. They announced on Wednesday that they’ve formed a unified organization, New Yorkers for New Revenue & Jobs, to push for legalization.
Another factor working against Cuomo is that Democrats now have supermajority control over the legislature, which could empower them to override a potential veto if they were to pass the MRTA against the governor’s wishes.
Meanwhile, New York lawmakers last month held the first public hearing of the year on proposals to legalize cannabis, specifically focusing on budget implications.
Legislators heard testimony during the joint session from two pro-legalization industry representatives and one opponent. Despite their ideological differences when it comes to legalization in general, all three panelists were critical of Cuomo’s reform proposal. The two reform advocates said they would prefer to advance the MRTA over his legislation.
The governor has attempted to assuage concerns with his plan by submitting amendments to the legislation that deal with issues such as social equity funding and criminal penalties for underage marijuana possession. But the window to enact his bill as part of the budget is quickly closing, with an April 1 deadline, and it doesn’t seem he’s any closer to moving advocates to his side, especially now.
Even his revised plan would continue to criminalize people who grow their own marijuana at home, and it wouldn’t provide for any additional social equity funding on top of his original plan.
Last month, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D)—who would become governor is Cuomo were to resign or be impeached—told Marijuana Moment in an interview that there would be room for revisions to the current 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.”
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.