State Watch

Cuomo to push for legal marijuana

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will back legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana for recreational use, his latest effort to join neighboring states with legal markets.

In remarks this week, Cuomo cast the effort as a move to reform the criminal justice system, and an acknowledgement of trends set by other states. He said a legal and regulatory structure for pot sales would eventually raise $300 million for state coffers.

“Recreational marijuana, I think this should’ve been passed years ago. I think too many people have been imprisoned and incarcerated and punished. Too many of those people are Black, Latino and poor,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “I’ve supported it for years. I’ve tried to pass it, but this is a year where we do need the funding, and a lot of New Yorkers are struggling. So I think this year will give us the momentum to get it over the goal line.”

Opponents of legalized marijuana pointed to the twin crises of a coronavirus pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of New Yorkers and a troubling spike in drug overdose deaths that have killed more.

“In the midst of an unprecedented respiratory pandemic and overdose epidemic, it is a terrible idea to commercialize high potency, dangerous pot products. It is a risky proposition for New York, and it won’t make anyone other than a few investors rich,” said Kevin Sabet, a former top official in the Office of National Drug Control Policy who now heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group. “Our leaders in Albany need to be laser-focused on addressing the fallout from the pandemic, not debating on how best to enrich Big Pot’s investors.”

Cuomo has tried twice before to legalize marijuana. An effort last year, after Democrats reclaimed control of the state legislature for the first time on Cuomo’s watch, failed when legislators could not agree on how to allocate tax revenue.

The money generated by a legal and taxable marijuana regime would be the barest of bandaids over a budget hole that is expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars over the next several years. Cuomo said he would also push legislation to allow legal sports betting on mobile devices as a way to increase revenue.

Medical marijuana is already legal in New York. But recreational pot is legal in three neighboring states — New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont — giving legislators another incentive to try to keep tax dollars inside their borders.

“As everyone knows Massachusetts has legalized marijuana, New Jersey is going to legalize marijuana,” Cuomo said. “So what are we really talking about at this point?”

Tags Andrew Cuomo Marijuana New York weed

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