New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said on Tuesday that passing marijuana legalization before the end of the legislative session is a top-10 priority.
Cuomo said efforts to legalize cannabis through the legislature have stalled in part due to a dynamic political wave where the legalization bill failed miserably in New Jersey. Some senators want voters to first approve the idea of ending cannabis prohibition through a referendum which has delayed the process.
But in two separate radio interviews, the governor challenged lawmakers to capitalize on growing pro-legalization sentiment and get a bill on his desk before the session ends in June 2019.
Cuomo made clear that although he is open to the prospect of a referendum vote, the fight in the legislature isn’t over yet. He expressed his concerns regarding the votes and said lawmakers were falling short of their legalization promises for political reasons and not necessarily because they take issues with the benefits of cannabis reform.
A revised version of a pending legalization bill was introduced in the legislature on Friday, which included new provisions that would allow for the expungement of records for prior cannabis related convictions and set guidelines for the production, processing, distribution and sales of marijuana, for example.
Cuomo had initially planned to include cannabis legalization in the state budget, however he failed to reach compromises with legislators ahead of the April 1 deadline, this ultimately led to a cut from the spending package, thereby leaving the cannabis legalization at a hold. The first version included some provisions that proved controversial for advocates, entailing a ban on home cultivation which several large marijuana businesses pushed for. Nevertheless, the amended version of the pending standalone legalization bill does allow home cultivation.
Cuomo said the expungement addition wasn’t a typical “dealbreaker” even though his initial proposal called for the less far reaching idea of sealing of records. He added that some thorny questions still have to be answered and sorted, for example, the setting limits on home cultivation, tax revenue from cannabis sales, how that should be spend and who will be responsible for issuing licenses for dispensaries.
Cuomo told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that New Jersey’s hold back on the legalization gave rise to a shift in the political environment.He cited senators who have told reporters that there isn’t enough support in the chamber “to pass it politically.”
Cuomo said that the problem is the political reality which is far from the legalization of cannabinoid. He said that he supported the bill and proposed, but the more they are getting close to the final weeks, they are still getting a “we don’t have the votes” situation which is disappointing.
The host asked Cuomo if it was possible for lawmakers to reach compromises on certain provisions to get the legislation passed before the session ends. Lehrer said that allowing individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate could represent on such compromise.
Cuomo said that he had tried a number of things already, he even considered opting out provision. He added, “I believe Jersey may be moving to a referendum also, but Massachusetts, etcetera, the legislature acted after a referendum.”
That’s what the senators who oppose it say – they think it is an overreach by the legislature. New Jersey lawmakers announced earlier this month that after months of negotiations and debate, they were not able to reach a comprehensive solution on legalization legislation and would instead focus on getting the issue on the state’s 2020 ballot.
Cuomo said it is possible that New York could see a ballot referendum on the issue to get a sense of the people. Theoretically, voters could approve a legalization referendum and the legislature could then take action. However, the governor repeated that it is politics which is holding back legislative reform and “everything is smoke.”
The Senate promised in their campaign – we have a Democratic Senate now for the first time and Cuomo supported them and worked hard for them. Legalization of cannabinoid was one of the major campaign issues, now the senators say that they don’t have the votes and when they say they don’t have the votes, they literally have no votes!
Even so, Cuomo didn’t rule out the possibility of passing cannabis legalization this session, despite the issue being so difficult.