In mid-December last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his plans to move forward toward legalizing adult-use cannabis. The announcement marked a serious heel-turn for the three-term incumbent. As recently as 2017, Cuomo was still espousing anti-legalization talking points. But a re-election bid against progressive rival Cynthia Nixon last year forced the governor to revise his stance. And on Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo revealed that cannabis legalization would be included in the state budget proposal. The budget is due by March 31, and at that time New Yorkers will have their first real glimpse at what legal cannabis could look like.
NY Gov. Cuomo Gives Lawmakers 100 Days to Legalize Weed
For someone whose pro-legalization position on weed took more than a decade to form, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo isn’t giving lawmakers much time to propose legislation legalizing cannabis. In fact, Cuomo says he wants a bill on his desk in the first 100 days of 2019, the beginning of his third term as governor.
Including legalization in the state budget proposal is one way to get the ball rolling toward that 100-day goal, and quickly. But the mere possibility of bringing legal weed to a vote in the state Assembly is so new, that Democratic lawmakers don’t have any clear sense what a legal, taxed and regulated adult use program might look like.
After the 2018 midterms, Democrats now hold a majority in the New York Senate fo2r the first time in several years. Republican state senators have historically blocked votes on legalization. And with opposition from the governor himself, minority Democrats turned toward piecemeal decriminalization measures over broad reforms.
But the progressive push in New York politics has changed the calculus. And a shrewd politician like Cuomo is going to reposition accordingly. It’s not as if anyone has forgotten that Cuomo was against adult-use legalization in 2017. And so health and justice reform advocates are calling Cuomo out. They say his pivot on legal weed is a cynical political move.
Health and Justice Reform Advocates Say Cuomo’s Rushed Plan Prioritizes Profit Over People
Still, it isn’t a position that came out of the blue. In 2018, Cuomo signed off on a massive medical cannabis program expansion and commissioned the NY Department of Health to study the impact of adult use legalization, taxation and regulation. When that study issued recommendations that New York moves forward with an adult-use program, Cuomo had little choice but to concede.
Despite these signs, however, Democratic lawmakers don’t appear ready with a vision of what legal weed might look like. What will the limits be? Where will it be sold? What kinds of businesses will be permitted and where? How will the state redress the harms of criminalizing marijuana? All the major questions still need answers. As a result, even long-time legalization advocates are worried Cuomo’s 100-day agenda is moving too fast and putting the wrong things first.
And that has given lawmakers who don’t yet fully support legalization a foothold to challenge it. Republican Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh issued a statement accusing Cuomo of being too focused on potential tax revenue from legal weed and losing sight of health and community impacts. “We cannot let such a big change be jammed through the legislative process without proper review and consideration,” she said.
Either way, lawmakers will have until March 31 to review and consider it. That’s when the state budget that will include legalizing cannabis is due. And the fact is that a strong majority of New Yorkers want legal weed. They’re going to get it. But what kind of law they’ll get remains to be seen.