New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Wednesday announced a proposal to create an Office of Cannabis Management which would oversee the state’s medical cannabis and hemp programs, along with an adult-use cannabis regime once approved by lawmakers.
The move telegraphs the governor’s plan to include legalization in his Executive Budget for the third time – in 2019 and 2020 Cuomo had included the reforms as part of his annual budget request but both times was rebuffed by lawmakers.
Cuomo said that the coronavirus pandemic had created “many challenges” for the state but “also created a number of opportunities to correct longstanding wrongs and build New York back better than ever before.”
“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.” – Cuomo in a statement
According to the governor’s office, once fully implemented, cannabis legalization is expected to generate more than $300 million in tax revenues for the state. In November, Cuomo said he expected legalization to pass during the next session “because the state is desperate for funding.”
In 2019, Cuomo had included the reforms as part of his budget platform; however, the plan faced strong resistance from the New York State Sheriff’s Association, the New York State Parents Teachers Association, a statewide physicians lobby, drug treatment advocates, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and moderate downstate Democrats. Instead, lawmakers agreed to expand the state’s cannabis decriminalization thresholds from 25 grams to 57 grams and lower the maximum penalties for possession to $200. The measure also included provisions for expungement of low-level cannabis crimes.
Last session, the reforms were pulled from budget talks amid the pandemic, as Cuomo said the state would pass a “bare-bones” budget in the face of an extraordinary budget shortfall caused, in part, by the economic shutdown in the state. Using the budget as a vehicle to legalize cannabis was not a slam dunk for Cuomo anyway prior to the pandemic as the governor and lawmakers reportedly had disagreements over how the revenues would be disbursed.
Many expected that Cuomo would again push for broad legalization in the budget after voters in New Jersey approved the reforms in November. New York is also bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, and Canada – all of which have legalized cannabis for adults.