Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that he will introduce a proposal that would finally legalize marijuana in New York state.
“I’m announcing a proposal to legalize cannabis and create an equitable adult-use cannabis program in NYS,” Cuomo tweeted Wednesday. “This program will generate much-needed revenue, while allowing us to support those that have been most harmed by decades of failed cannabis prohibition.”
Under the proposal, New York would establish a new Office of Cannabis Management, which would oversee both the recreational program and the state’s preexisting medical marijuana program. If approved later this year, the proposal would allow adults over the age of 21 to buy marijuana at state-approved dispensaries, with the state reaping an estimated $300 million in tax revenue from legalization.
I’m announcing a proposal to legalize cannabis and create an equitable adult-use cannabis program in NYS.
This program will generate much-needed revenue, while allowing us to support those that have been most harmed by decades of failed cannabis prohibition.#SOTS2021
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) January 6, 2021
While New York decriminalized personal-use possession of marijuana in 2019, the Empire State has lagged behind other states — including, most recently, Montana, Arizona, North Dakota and New Jersey — in legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Cuomo has twice attempted to legalize marijuana in the largely Democratic state, but both tries stalled when they reached the legislature. However, state Democrats obtained a supermajority following the November elections, giving them the ability to override any veto.
The timing of Cuomo’s proposal — like news that Cuomo will also allow sports betting in New York — seems to be financially motivatedm, as the state rebounds from a ballooning deficit and the economic impact of Covid-19.
“Despite the many challenges New York has faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also created a number of opportunities to correct longstanding wrongs and build New York back better than ever before,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement.
“Not only will legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provide the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also allows us to directly support the individuals and communities that have been most harmed by decades of cannabis prohibition.”
Melissa Moore, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance and member of Start SMART NY Coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade), said in a statement to Rolling Stone, “New York still has the opportunity to lead the country on cannabis legalization by establishing the most ambitious and progressive legalization program in the U.S. and implementing cannabis legalization from a social justice lens where other states have fallen short. 2021 is the right time for marijuana justice in New York and the budget period is a crucial time for advancing legalization, which can be an economic engine driving wealth and equity in marginalized communities and providing space for alternative economic systems — if we work intentionally.”
Moore continued, “Governor Cuomo and the legislature can cement New York as the national model for marijuana legalization by centering community reinvestment, equity, and justice within our comprehensive reform. We can do this by making our legalization effort one that benefits those who have been harmed by prohibition and focusing on creating equitable jobs and small businesses across the state as New York looks to recover from the pandemic. Given New York’s appalling history with racially-biased marijuana enforcement, we must be bold and innovative in creating justice and equity.”
Governor Cuomo’s press office added, “The proposal reflects national standards and emerging best practices to promote responsible use, limiting the sale of cannabis products to adults 21 and over and establishing stringent quality and safety controls including strict regulation of the packaging, labeling, advertising, and testing of all cannabis products. Cannabis regulation also offers the opportunity to invest in research and direct resources to communities that have been most impacted by cannabis prohibition.”