After surviving primary challenges from candidates much more progressive on the issue of marijuana, like Cynthia Nixon, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo began his third term with a plan to legalize weed in the first 100 days of 2019. On Monday, however, Gov. Cuomo walked back that plan, saying that legalization very likely won’t be included in the state’s 2019 budget legislation. Cuomo’s backtracking has dashed hopes of an accelerated path to legalization in New York. And it could mean that weed won’t be legal until 2020, or later.
NY Gov. Cuomo’s Ambitious Plan to Legalize Weed is Likely a Bust
Late last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo marked a serious heel-turn on the issue of legal cannabis, announcing his administration’s plans to legalize marijuana for adult use. As recently as 2017, Cuomo was still espousing anti-marijuana talking points. But a re-election bid against progressive rivals forced the governor to revise his stance on the issue. Then, in early January, Gov. Cuomo revealed that cannabis legalization would be included in the upcoming state budget proposal.
Politicians often tuck large or controversial bills inside state budget legislation, making them more difficult to contest. And the strategy of putting marijuana legalization in the budget proposal gets the lawmaking ball rolling faster, compared with introducing legal weed as its own separate bill. Indeed, it was the only way to meet Gov. Cuomo’s ambitious 100-day target for legalizing cannabis.
Since Cuomo’s January announcement, legalization advocates (and even opponents) have been eagerly awaiting the budget proposal’s March 31 deadline. It seemed that on April 1, New Yorkers would finally have a glimpse of what legal weed would look like.
Now, with that deadline just three weeks away, Gov. Cuomo says “he isn’t sure” if legal marijuana will in fact be included in this year’s budget. But “isn’t sure” is probably a softer way of simply saying, “very likely won’t be.” If lawmakers fail to include legalization in the 2019 budget legislation, they’ll either have to wait to introduce it as a standalone bill late this summer or wait until 2020’s budget proposal.
Is a “Wide Divide” on the Issue of Legalization to Blame for Lawmakers’ Failure?
Gov. Cuomo says he’s confident that at some point in the future, New York lawmakers will be able to reach a consensus on adult use marijuana. But “not in the next two weeks.”
According to the governor, there remains too wide of a divide on the issue of adult use. And that divide means lawmakers will need more time to craft the rules for a taxed and regulated cannabis industry. Gov. Cuomo might accept some of the responsibility for that divide himself. While Republican lawmakers have historically blocked votes on legalization in New York, opposition from the governor’s office forced minority Democrats to adopt piecemeal decriminalization reforms over broad efforts to legalize cannabis.
However, now that Democrats hold a majority in the New York Senate for the first time in several years, a divide on the issue itself should be less of an obstacle. Rather, it’s more of a procedural divide among the supporters of legalization that’s holding things up. At the start of 2019, Cuomo moved so fast—or appeared to be—to bring legal weed to a vote that Democratic lawmakers didn’t have a clear sense of what a legal, taxed and regulated adult use program might look like.
In other words, lawmakers who support legalization didn’t have much time to figure out how to actually implement it effectively. And those agreements, coupled with a concern for “getting it right,” have slowed lawmakers’ efforts to include legalization in the budget.