Entrepreneur Andrew Yang entered the race to become the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee way back on November 6, 2017 and suspended his campaign on February 11, 2020.
While marijuana hasn’t played a central role in Yang’s campaign, he supports legalization and has proposed several drug policy reforms since announcing his candidacy. That includes plans to decriminalize opioid possession and provide waivers for military veterans to access medical cannabis.
This piece was last updated on February 11, 2020 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race. It will continue to be updated on a rolling basis.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Yang has never before held public office, so he doesn’t have a record of policy accomplishments to review. Instead, in addition to being an entrepreneur, he’s worked in the nonprofit sector and as a philanthropist who has earned accolades for his efforts to create job opportunities for disadvantaged communities.
On The Campaign Trail
Since launching his campaign, Yang has advocated for ending marijuana prohibition, stating that “it’s already legal” in a growing number of states and that “criminalizing it does more harm than good.” He’s also pledged to “pardon those in prison for non-violent marijuana-related offenses.”
It’s time to legalize marijuana https://t.co/0Uhl17MW98 it’s already legal in 9 states and criminalizing it does more harm than good. I’d pardon those in prison for non-violent marijuana-related offenses.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) July 2, 2019
Marijuana is already legal in most states for medical use and in many for recreation. It's time to end the ambiguity and legalize it at the federal level. This would improve safety, social equity, and generate billions of dollars in new revenue based on legal cannabis businesses. pic.twitter.com/NQkhcEZd1L
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) July 22, 2019
In January 2020, the candidate proposed legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for medical purposes for military veterans. He previously said that the federal government should loosen its psychedelics laws to make substances like psilocybin “more freely available” for therapeutic use.
Yang said in a podcast interview that legalizing “certain drugs” could be one tool to combat drug cartel violence.
Another part of his campaign includes a bold proposal to decriminalize possession and use of opioids as a means of mitigating the drug crisis.
I didn't always believe that decriminalizing opioids was a good way to tackle the opioid crisis in our country. Then I dug into the data, and realized it is the single best way to facilitate recovery by prescribing treatment, not jail, to struggling users. pic.twitter.com/7LOhJzMvcN
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) July 19, 2019
“While those who brought this plague on our citizens must face serious consequences, we need to make sure that those who are afflicted by the illness of addiction are treated and not criminalized,” the site states. “The individuals behind pharmaceutical companies who promoted these drugs as non-addictive while knowing better are the ones who belong in jail, not those who fell prey to addiction.”
“It is possible that criminalizing opiates decreases access and use. But for a public health crisis of this magnitude, the criminal justice system seems to be a terrible first resort. It pushes a lot of the activity underground and makes addicts more likely to hide their addiction. Addiction is a disease—you shouldn’t criminalize people that you are trying to help. Especially when it may be partially your fault that they got addicted in the first place.”
In December 2019, the candidate said that the government should invest in safe injection facilities where people can use illicit substances in a medically supervised environment to prevent overdoses and encourage them to seek treatment.
Yang was asked at a presidential debate about how he would fund his proposal to send people who overdose on opioids to mandatory, three-day treatment. He said that pharmaceutical companies should foot the bill.
“As president, we will take back those profits [from drug companies that market opioids] and put them to work right here in New Hampshire so that if you are seeking treatment, you have resources to be able to pursue it,” he said. “This is not a money problem fundamentally, this is a human problem. But money cannot be the obstacle.”
Yang drew attention in April when he said he’d pardon all non-violent drug offenders on the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20.
“I would legalize marijuana and I would pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent, drug-related offense,” he said. “I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021 and I would high five them on their way out of jail.”
I’m for full legalization of marijuana. I would go a step further and on 4/20, 2021, exactly 2 years from today, I would pardon everyone who’s in jail for a low-level, non-violent marijuana offense and I would high five them on their way out of jail. 👍 pic.twitter.com/Q8txZNa2I1
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) April 20, 2019
.@AndrewYang at #NANconv2019: "I would legalize marijuana and then I would pardon everyone who's in jail for a nonviolent drug-related offense. I would pardon them on April 20, 2021 and I would high-five them on the way out of jail." pic.twitter.com/wqELzL9TwO
— The Hill (@thehill) April 3, 2019
But shortly after making that pronouncement, Yang walked back his proposal, saying that only those convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses would be eligible under his mass clemency plan.
He also moved the date up for his proposed pardons, stating in a fundraising email in August that he would use his executive powers on his “first day as President” to pardon “every person imprisoned for a low-level, non-violent marijuana offense.”
Marijuana convictions make up a very small percentage of the federal prison population, but that’s still ~ a few thousand high fives
Hopefully there won’t be any signing ceremonies on day two. Raw palms! pic.twitter.com/FUNSobJYa1
— Daniel Newhauser (@dnewhauser) August 23, 2019
In February 2020, Yang again talked about his pardon plan, this time with his two young sons playing on a stage during a New Hampshire campaign stop. He again seemed to shift the scope of the plan, however, saying he’d pardon everyone jailed “for a non-violent drug-related offense.”
His campaign website does state that the candidate would institute a policy of identifying non-violent drug offenders “for probation and potential early release.”
In December 2019, Yang contrasted rampant opioid prescriptions with the ongoing criminalization of marijuana.
He also tweeted that “[i]nstead of pardoning billionaires I’d pardon non-violent marijuana and opiate offenders.”
Instead of pardoning billionaires I’d pardon non-violent marijuana and opiate offenders.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) May 16, 2019
The candidate said that the “criminalization of marijuana is stupid and racist, particularly now that it’s legal in some states.”
“We should proceed with full legalization and pardon of those in jail for non-violent marijuana-related offenses,” he said.
Our criminalization of marijuana is stupid and racist, particularly now that it's legal in some states. We should proceed with full legalization and pardon of those in jail for non-violent marijuana-related offenses. pic.twitter.com/sjrYq3P6cW
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) December 3, 2018
“I’m for the legalization of marijuana, remove it from the controlled substance list in part because our administration of the criminal laws are deeply racist. It’s very obvious to everyone,” Yang said during an appearance on The Breakfast Club in March 2019. “On April 20, 2021, I’m going to pardon everyone who’s in prison for a non-violent drug offense because it makes no sense to have people in jail for stuff that’s legal in some parts of the country.”
He also made that point during an interview on the Joe Rogan Experience in February.
After former Vice President Joe Biden said that marijuana may be a gateway drug and that’s partly why he opposes legalization, Yang predicted that his opponent would “ end up evolving on this issue over time if he sees the same evidence that I have.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) attacked Biden over the remark during a presidential debate, joking that the candidate must have been high when he made it. Yang said the joke was “a good moment” for the senator but that it’s “not really my style to even make a joke like that towards Joe.”
"I thought that was a good moment for Cory. That's not really my style to even make a joke like that towards Joe. I thought Cory had a good moment," @AndrewYang on Booker's marijuana zinger on @JoeBiden during #DemDebates pic.twitter.com/BMiC8w46aR
— The Young Turks (@TheYoungTurks) November 21, 2019
The candidate shared photos of himself surrounded by dozens of trimmed marijuana plants at an unnamed facility in November.
“Marijuana should be legal nationwide,” he wrote on Twitter. “It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist.”
Marijuana should be legal nationwide. It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist. https://t.co/0Uhl17MW98
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) November 18, 2019
In October, Yang said that Canada legalized cannabis and that the U.S. “should follow suit and remove it from the federal controlled substance list and then regulate.”
Canada just legalized marijuana https://t.co/3CdpjmSDxa we should follow suit and remove it from the federal controlled substance list and then regulate.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) October 20, 2018
In an interview with The Hill in September, the candidate reiterated that “in addition to decriminalizing marijuana, I would decriminalize opiates for personal use.”
“We need to decriminalize opioids for personal use. We need to let this country know this is not a personal failing, this was a systemic government failing,” Yang said during a Democratic presidential debate in October. “Then we need to open up safe consumption and safe injection sites around the country because they save lives.”
During a CNN town hall event in April, Yang pointed to countries such as Portugal that have decriminalized personal consumption of drugs, arguing that those engaged in drug trafficking should be held accountable in the criminal justice system but that those caught possessing small amounts of illicit substances should be referred to treatment.
“We need to decriminalize opiates for personal use,” Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang says. “I’m also for the legalization of cannabis” https://t.co/bW5PJhIGsH #YangTownHall pic.twitter.com/Z6jJQbfGKD
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 15, 2019
However, he said his proposal would apply to opioids and specifically not cocaine because, he said, “the addiction has very different features.”
Yang also cited Portugal as an example of a country whose drug policy supports his proposal to decriminalize opioids in a Quora post in September.
My answer to Should we adopt a drug policy like Portugal? https://t.co/NTFJ0y5Mwn
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) September 26, 2019
“When you look around the world when they have decriminalized these drugs for personal use, so if you’re a dealer you go to jail but if you’re an addict and we catch you with the drugs, we don’t send you to jail we send you to counseling and treatment and this brings down both overdose rates and abuse rates over time,” he said in an interview with a Boston CBS affiliate.
In August, Yang started selling campaign merchandise that incorporated his passion for math and marijuana reform. For example, his site offers a $30 t-shirt that read, “Math. Money. Marijuana.”
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) August 24, 2019
The candidate also launched an online petition calling for marijuana legalization that month.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) August 27, 2019
Yang released a plan that would provide military veterans with waivers so that they can access medical cannabis, even in states where it’s not legal.
“The scientific evidence that certain controlled substances—particularly marijuana—are particularly effective at treating certain ailments common to veterans (e.g., PTSD) and for pain management,” he said.
Asked if he felt any particular substances beside marijuana hold promise in the treatment of such conditions, Yang told Marijuana Moment through a Twitter direct message that MDMA represents one example of a drug that should be considered.
In August 2018, Yang wrote that while he’s for legalization, “many users do find it addictive and we should have intelligent safeguards in place like limiting advertising and THC levels. We should learn from our past.”
I’m for legalizing marijuana. But many users do find it addictive and we should have intelligent safeguards in place like limiting advertising and THC levels. We should learn from our past. https://t.co/96EsC1Dr8V
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) August 21, 2018
During a campaign stop in Portland, Yang signed a bong.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
It does not appear that Yang discussed marijuana publicly or on social media prior to filing his presidential campaign with the Federal Election Commission in November 2017.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Asked whether his plan to grant mass pardons to people with nonviolent marijuana convictions on 4/20 signaled that he used cannabis himself, Yang said it simply meant that he knows people who smoke it but that he hasn’t personally indulged.
“I was a pretty geeky Asian dude and, you know, my parents did a pretty good job of keeping me steering clear of certain things,” he told HOT 97 in April 2019. “I have many friends who partake.”
“I have a lot of friends who are using marijuana for medicinal and pain relief purposes,” he said. interview. “It’s much less lethal than let’s say opiates that are killing eight Americans every hour.”
Jokingly asked whether he had a favorite blunt wrap brand, the candidate said he “cannot speak to what my preference would be.”
In a later interview, Yang admitted that he used cannabis in a “past life.”
Marijuana Under A Yang Presidency
Though Yang is best known for his economic plans—namely providing each American with a universal basic income—he’s laid out several bold drug policy reform proposals throughout his campaign. While he hasn’t endorsed any particular piece of marijuana legislation, his support for legalization, and broader plans to eliminate criminal records for those with non-violent cannabis convictions, indicate he would be an ally in the marijuana reform movement if elected president.
Congressman Files First Federal Marijuana Reform Bill Of 2021
The first marijuana reform bill of the new Congress was introduced this week. It’s not the comprehensive legalization legislation that advocates are waiting for, but it would reschedule cannabis under federal law.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) filed the proposal, which is identical to a measure he sponsored last session. It would simply move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Text of the legislation, which has not yet been posted on Congress’s website but was shared with Marijuana Moment, states that “the Attorney General of the United States shall, by order not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this section, transfer marijuana…from schedule I of such Act to schedule III of such Act.”
When the congressman introduced the bill in 2019, he said the state-level legalization movement necessitated a policy change that would free up research into cannabis.
“As marijuana is legalized for medical and recreational use across the United States, it is important that we study the effects of the substance and the potential impacts it can have on various populations,” he said at the time. “By rescheduling marijuana from a schedule I controlled substance to a schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded.”
But while rescheduling is backed by President Joe Biden, who remains opposed to adult-use legalization, it’s not the reform that advocates are getting behind. There are high hopes that a more comprehensive completely remove marijuana from the CSA—while promoting social equity—will move through the 117th Congress.
A bill to accomplish that cleared the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but it died in the GOP-controlled Senate. Now that Democrats have control of both chambers, activists are waiting for the legislation to be taken back up with a better chance of making it to Biden’s desk.
That bill—the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—was sponsored by now-Vice President Kamala Harris, though she’s indicated that she would not necessarily push the president to adopt a pro-legalization position.
While moving marijuana to Schedule III under Steube’s new bill would not end federal prohibition in the way the MORE Act would, it would still have a number of effects.
It would, for example, protect federal employees who use marijuana from a Reagan-era executive order that defines illegal drugs as Schedule I or II substances.
And only drugs under Schedules I and II are affected by the tax provision known as “280E” that blocks cannabis companies from deducting businesses expenses from their taxes.
Reclassification would also make scientific research easier, since cannabis’s current Schedule I status creates additional hurdles for studies.
Moving cannabis out of Schedule I would additionally end threats from the U.S. Postal Service that publishers have faced over the mailing of newspapers containing marijuana advertisements, since the federal statute the agency has cited to justify its actions applies only to Schedule I substances.
But modest rescheduling alone would not remove federal criminal penalties. Advocates have also expressed concerns that any move other than a complete removal from the CSA could create additional regulatory roadblocks for cannabis businesses that are operating in compliance with state laws.
Read the text of the new marijuana rescheduling bill below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
South Dakota Lawmakers Form Cannabis Caucus To Address Marijuana Legalization Issues
The Senate majority leader said enacting a regulatory framework for legal cannabis will probably require more than one session of work.
By By: Nick Lowrey, South Dakota News Watch
Entrepreneurs across South Dakota are already taking steps to claim a share of the state’s soon-to-be-legal marijuana market, but legislators and regulators are off to a slow start in crafting laws and rules to govern the controversial new industry.
The sale, possession and use of recreational and medicinal marijuana are set to become legal in South Dakota for the first time on July 1. But when the 2021 South Dakota legislative session started on January 12, only one bill regarding marijuana had been filed.
A group of 15 Republican lawmakers have formed what they call a “Cannabis Caucus” to address marijuana issues this session. But leaders in both the Republican and Democratic parties say discussions on preparing for legalization and regulation of the business of marijuana sales, possession and use—one of the top matters facing the 2021 Legislature—have barely begun.
One high-ranking Senate leader said enacting a regulatory framework for legal marijuana will probably require more than one session of work and will likely spill into the 2022 session or require a special session to complete.
“Not everything will be done at the end of this session,” said Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack, R-Union Center. “I know there has been talk about the need for a special session.”
Marijuana entrepreneurs, however, are not waiting for the Legislature to act. Many have been working for months to get businesses ready for the July 1 legalization date. The South Dakota Secretary of State’s Office handled 907 more new business filings during the last three months of 2020 than it had during the same period of 2019, many of them related to legal weed.
Exactly how many new business filings are related to marijuana is unknown, as the secretary of state’s office does not require new businesses to indicate a purpose or sales plan, said Jason Luntz, deputy secretary of state.
But as of January 11, a search of public business filings on the secretary of state’s website found more than 40 businesses with the words “cannabis,” “marijuana,” “pot” or “dispensary” in their names. Most of those businesses organized as limited liability companies or registered their business names after voters approved marijuana legalization on November 3, 2020.
Even as a court challenge of the legalization of recreational marijuana remains unresolved, experts say the state needs to move quickly to establish clear rules for growing and selling marijuana commercially. The state will need to license and regulate sales outlets, set up tax collections, define penalties for selling marijuana to minors and make laws related to the marijuana black market, said Kittrick Jeffries, a former marijuana industry compliance officer and founder of a new Rapid City-based cannabis consulting firm called Dakota Cannabis Consulting.
“I think South Dakota has a great opportunity here…but there are some really key things that need to be done before July,” Jeffries said.
If lawmakers and state regulators do not have the framework of a commercial market in place before marijuana becomes legal on July 1, anyone who wants to use cannabis after that date would be pushed to buy from the black market, which could expand and compete with legal, tax-paying retailers, Jeffries said.
Black market competition could weaken South Dakota’s legal marijuana market, leaving local businesses more vulnerable to interstate competition should the federal government choose to legalize marijuana, Jeffries said.
A few legislators have been considering marijuana regulation in the early days of the 2021 session. Rep. Mike Derby, R-Rapid City, is playing a lead role in forming what he calls the “Cannabis Caucus.” Derby said the group’s goal is mostly to share information and help educate other lawmakers as opposed to offering legislation or coordinating votes. Members plan to meet for the first time on January 21 to review bill drafts, Derby said.
One of the big issues Derby plans to work on is providing clarity for local governments. Dozens of marijuana businesses are already preparing to begin commercial marijuana growing operations or are preparing to open retail sales outlets in South Dakota. Municipal governments will need guidance on how to safely zone for often large, indoor marijuana farms needed to supply wholesale and retail outlets, Derby said.
“At the end of the day, we want to respect the will of the people,” Derby said. “We have an opportunity to look at what other states have passed, learn from their best practices, learn from their mistakes and maybe create a better process.”
Rep. Mary Fitzgerald, R-St. Onge, has called for legislation that would make using marijuana in a vehicle and driving while high illegal. South Dakota does not have laws banning marijuana use in vehicles or driving while high because any use or possession of marijuana is still illegal. As of January 13, Fitzgerald had not filed any legislation regarding marijuana use.
The only bill regarding marijuana legalization that had been filed by January 13 came from the Department of Revenue. Senate Bill 35 asks the Legislature to give the department $4 million to cover the costs of regulating the marijuana industry until tax revenue starts coming in. The bill also asks lawmakers to give the state Department of Health about $135,000 to help cover the cost of regulating medical marijuana.
Any recreational marijuana bills that legislators pass could be negated by a lawsuit seeking to declare the recreational marijuana vote result as unconstitutional. Backed by Gov. Kristi Noem (R), the lawsuit was filed by Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, who argue that the constitutional amendment passed by voters, known as Amendment A, should not have been on the November 3 ballot and is unconstitutional because it was too broad.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for January 27 in Hughes County circuit court, but no trial date has been set. The circuit court’s final ruling and any subsequent appeals to the state Supreme Court likely won’t be settled until well after the 2021 legislative session ends.
Ian Fury, a spokesman for Gov. Noem, said the governor is in discussion with lawmakers about marijuana legalization but has not engaged in filing or pushing any specific legislation so far. “Many legislators have an interest in this topic and we want to give them the opportunity to convey their thoughts and ideas on behalf of their constituents,” Fury wrote in an email to News Watch.
Some lawmakers question whether the Legislature should be involved in regulating recreational marijuana at all.
“My interpretation of Amendment A is that it doesn’t allow the Legislature to do anything,” said Sen. Arthur Rusch, R-Vermillion, vice-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Amendment A did not provide a regulatory framework for the industrial production or commercial sale of large amounts of cannabis. Instead, the amendment requires the state Department of Revenue to devise licensing and regulatory mechanisms that allow for the sale of recreational marijuana by April 1, 2022. Rusch said he believes Amendment A gave full authority over recreational marijuana regulation to the Department of Revenue.
“That’s one of the reasons I believe [Amendment A] is unconstitutional,” Rusch said.
Still, legislative leaders in both the Republican and Democratic parties acknowledged that a clear majority of South Dakota voters wanted to see marijuana legalized and that the Legislature is obligated to implement legalization measures.
“Our feet are set in concrete. Until the courts rule or voters overturn it in another election, it is our job to move forward with legalization,” Cammack said.
Cuomo’s New York Marijuana Legalization Plan Draws Mixed Reviews From Advocates
After much anticipation, the full text of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) marijuana legalization proposal was released late Tuesday night as part of his budget request for 2021.
So far, the measure has been met with mixed reviews from advocates and stakeholders. While many feel encouraged that the groundwork seems to have been laid for a legal cannabis market, some are taking issue with provisions related to equity and regulatory control, as well as a continued prohibition on home cultivation. The proposal also lacks license categories for delivery services and on-site consumption.
The governor has released various details about his legalization plan in recent weeks, but this is the first time that the specific legislative language is available. Cuomo has twice attempted to enact the policy change through previous budgets, only for the idea to stall amid disagreements over details with lawmakers. This time around, the administration and legislators seem confident reform will advance, especially in light of legalization being enacted in neighboring New Jersey.
But based on feedback from advocates, it appears that there will still be significant efforts to amend the governor’s proposal as it is considered by the legislature.
Here are some of the main features of Cuomo’s legislation:
-There would be no home grow option for medical cannabis patients or recreational consumers. The governor’s budget proposal last year did include the option for patients but excluded the adult-use market—a decision that prompted controversy, especially after it was revealed that major marijuana companies urged the governor to continue criminalizing home cultivation.
-Cuomo and his budget director on Tuesday touted a new provision allocating $100 million in cannabis tax revenue to grants for communities most impacted by prohibition over four years. But advocates say that amount is far too little, which may create conflict when the bill heads to the legislature, where leaders have emphasized the need to aid people from communities harmed by the drug war.
-When it comes to local control, individual municipalities with populations of 100,000 or more will have the option to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area. The way the legislation is written, if a county decides to opt out, it wouldn’t apply to any cities within its jurisdiction that also have a population of 100,000 or more unless they proactively chose to enact their own ban. They have until the end of 2021 to opt out.
-The bill does not create licenses for delivery services or for on-site consumption at dispensaries, but does allow regulators to create additional license types, which leaves the door open for those categories to potentially come online in the future. It also provides for the issuance of caterer’s permit, which would allow the “service of cannabis products at a function, occasion or event in a hotel, restaurant, club, ballroom or other premises” where marijuana could “lawfully be sold or served” during certain hours.
-The proposal generally disallows vertical integration for adult-use cannabis businesses, preventing them from having ownership over everything from production to sales. However, existing medical cannabis organizations may be able to submit applications for recreational licenses and stay vertically integrated.
-Advocates are also pushing back against the concentration of power that would be given to an individual executive director of the proposed new Office of Cannabis Management, which would be responsible for regulating the marijuana and hemp markets.
-The governor is calling for three types of taxes on recreational cannabis products: one based on THC content to be applied at the wholesale level, a 10.25 percent surcharge tax at the point of purchase by consumers and applicable state and local sales taxes.
Activists expect that this proposal will serve as a starting point for negotiations with legislators, several of whom may well push for a greater emphasis on social equity in legalization legislation.
“It is encouraging that Governor Cuomo has now acknowledged the need to devote resources to social equity and community reinvestment in his plan to legalize adult use cannabis, but it is disappointing that his proposal, as stated, devotes only a fraction of the funding that is needed in these program areas,” Melissa Moore, New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release.
“We, along with our community and legislative allies, have long said that legalization needs to be done right if it is to be done right now—that means centering communities that have borne the brunt of racist enforcement for far too long. Governor Cuomo has listened to the calls to include social equity in his legalization platform. But to the communities that have been brutalized by the immoral war on drugs for so long, the current proposal does not go even remotely far enough. We will not give up on getting this done right.”
Cuomo has recognized the need to enact the reform to promote racial justice and social equity, but he’s also repeatedly emphasized the economic opportunity that legalization represents, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The administration is projecting that the state will take in $350 million annually in marijuana tax revenue once the program is up and running. Eventually, $50 million a year will go to social equity grants to promote participation in the industry by disadvantaged people.
A memo on budget revenue states that the proposal “would establish a robust social and economic equity program” that will involve “providing technical assistance, training, loans and mentoring to qualified social and economic equity applicants.”
Under the proposal, regulations for the state’s industrial hemp program seem as though they would go largely unchanged compared to the rules that took effect this year.
Unlike past sessions, the legislature will have more influence this year after Senate Democrats secured a supermajority in the November election. If the governor were to veto any bill over details he didn’t like, they could potentially have enough votes to override him.
To that end, New York’s legal cannabis market could end up looking more like what’s outlined in a bill introduced by Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and 18 cosponsors at the beginning of this month. The legislation would make it so adults 21 and older would be able to purchase cannabis and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
It would also provide 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.
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.
In any case, there’s growing recognition in the state that legalization is an inevitability.
The top Republican in the New York Assembly said last month 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 were recently prefiled 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.