A top New York lawmaker is still hoping to get marijuana legalization passed this year despite challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) also said on Wednesday that she laid partial blame for the failure to enact the policy change this month through the budget on the governor, though she acknowledged that addressing the pandemic took priority over negotiating the details of cannabis legislation.
Asked about her objectives for the rest of the 2020 session, Peoples-Stokes told WNYC radio that she’d “like to see the legalization of adult use cannabis happen. I still am a proponent of that.”
And while there’s uncertainty in terms of how the both the Assembly and Senate would approach the issue, she said “I personally would like to see it move forward” this year.
“I can’t commit that it will, because it’s not my call whether or not things go on the floor or not, but I do know that it’s something I’m pushing for,” the majority leader said.
Listen to the Peoples-Stokes’s marijuana comments, starting around 15:00 into the audio below:
Lawmakers and reform advocates had hoped that legalization could be accomplished through the annual budget, and they held out hope all the way up to the April deadline, but it didn’t happen.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) later indicated that he thought the legislative session was “effectively over” in general and raised doubts that lawmakers could pass cannabis reform vote remotely via video conferencing. But the legislature has not adjourned for the year and could still continue to meet—remotely for now or in-person following the health crisis—and enact proposals such as marijuana legalization.
This is the second year in a row that Cuomo pitched ending cannabis prohibition via the budget only to have that plan come apart.
Peoples-Stokes said she didn’t believe that it was disagreements about particular provisions of a legalization bill that derailed the effort this time, as she “didn’t get any real pushback” from Cuomo’s staff when she discussed her priorities such as using tax revenue from legal sales to reinvest in communities most impacted by drug war enforcement.
Rather, “I just think the governor didn’t want it to be there right then,” she said of the budget that was finalized as the state was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In any case, the major leader said she understood why Cuomo might not want to engage in a dialogue about the proposal at a time when the crisis was unfolding.
“I think why it just did not happen in this budget is I think that folks didn’t want to spend the time continuing to negotiate on something when we were in the heat of the virus that could’ve impacted us all, being there having conversations with each other,” she said.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why it didn’t happen—and honestly, I’m not disappointed that it didn’t, because to have the staff of the Senate, the staff of the Assembly and the governor’s staff in a room negotiating something that was not a priority if you compare it to what was going on with the increasing number of people who were contracting this virus in our state, it pales in comparison,” she continued. “For it to be put to the side, I’m good with that. I’m not disappointed about it.”
“But I do think there’s time in this legislative session to get it done,” she added.
Peoples-Stokes said that she isn’t sure the extent to which the legislature might be more inclined to pass legalization this year compared to last, but she emphasized that there are “some fiscal implications” to the policy change that should be taken into account.
The economic benefits of reform “could be helpful to our state in the long run and be helpful to servicing the needs of our people in the long run,” she said. “I think it should be something that we should continue to discuss, and again, I hope we can get it passed this year.”
Sen. Liz Krueger (D), the lead sponsor of a standalone marijuana legalization bill, also said last month that if legal marijuana didn’t end up being addressed in the budget, “there is no reason it can’t get done right later.”
New York lawmakers might feel extra pressure to get legalization done this year, as voters in neighboring New Jersey will be deciding on a cannabis referendum on their November ballots.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.