New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has again announced plans to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults in the state.
The governor first proposed legalizing pot in his 2019 State of the State address. At the time, Suffolk and Nassau counties quickly drafted bills seeking to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana to be sold on Long Island, and Mr. Cuomo dropped the effort later that spring due to lack of support in the state legislature.
But with many neighboring states considering or already allowing the recreational use of marijuana, the state legislature trending more progressive after the 2020 elections, and New York facing a massive budget hole due to the pandemic, Mr. Cuomo said in his State of the State Address Jan. 6 that now is the time to change the law.
“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,” said Mr. Cuomo. “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.”
Mr. Cuomo said a new Office of Cannabis Management would be created to oversee the new adult-use program, along with the state’s existing medical and cannabinoid hemp programs. Sales would be restricted to people ages 21 and over and marijuana products would have to meet quality and safety standards.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, there was much attention nationwide to a new lung illness that had killed nearly 70 people, hospitalized nearly 3,000 and injured the lungs of many others. The illnesses were found primarily among people who had used black market marijuana vaping products that included a toxic additive.
If pot is legalized, the state would also offer “licensing opportunities and assistance to entrepreneurs in communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.”
The governor said the legalization is expected to generate more than $300 million in tax revenue annually.
Massachusetts already has a statewide network of marijuana retailers. Maine and Vermont have legalized possession of marijuana and are expected to soon roll out retail sales. Marijuana legalization is expected to go before New Jersey voters this fall and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont also announced plans to work with his legislature to legalize marijuana in his State of the State address Jan. 6.
Mr. Cuomo’s sweeping, four-part State of the State Address delivered over four days in mid- January, called for a massive overhaul of the state’s economy, green energy production and infrastructure, but was overshadowed in last week’s news cycle by the aftermath of the riot in the U.S. Capitol and the impeachment of the president.
While the Suffolk County Legislature had floated a preemptive ban on marijuana sales in 2019, many Suffolk residents spoke in favor of legalizing marijuana at public hearings at the time, after which County Executive Steve Bellone suggested a one-year moratorium on pot sales and cultivation here while the county addressed potential public health and safety issues. Suffolk’s effort lost steam after the state legislature failed to pass marijuana legalization in June of 2019. Nassau County, however, voted that spring to ban marijuana sales.
Instead of flat-out legalizing marijuana sales, the state legislature in 2019 voted instead to decriminalize possession of less than two ounces of the drug, reducing such a possession charge from a misdemeanor to a violation carrying a fine as low as $50, and also making smoking of marijuana in public a violation instead of a misdemeanor.