New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) pushed for cannabis legalization during his 2020 State of the State Address on Wednesday. Cuomo had included legalization in his 2021 budget last year; however, the proposal was pulled after legislative leaders said they would prefer the measure be approved by lawmakers rather than through the omnibus budget bill.
New York faces a $6 billion budget shortfall and during his speech, Cuomo indicated cannabis-derived revenues could bring in $300 million a year in tax revenues.
“For decades, communities of color were disproportionately affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws. Let’s legalize adult use of marijuana.” – Cuomo, during his State of the State address, January 8, 2020
It’s unclear whether Cuomo will again try to include the reforms in broad budget legislation but during his remarks acknowledged his office would create a new Office of Cannabis Management; last month Cuomo hired Norman Birenbaum – the former top cannabis regulator in Rhode Island – to help craft legalization policies and oversee the adult-use, medical cannabis, hemp, and CBD industries.
In a press release, Cuomo’s office promised any legalization proposal would “administer social equity licensing opportunities, develop an egalitarian adult-use market structure and facilitate market entry through access to capital, technical assistance and incubation of equity entrepreneurs.”
Additionally, the governor’s office said that it planned to work with its neighboring states that have yet to legalize cannabis – Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – on quality and safety controls for the adult-use cannabis industry. Last year, Cuomo met with governors from those states to discuss regional cannabis policies. New York is already bordered by cannabis legalization in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Canada.
The Governor also plans on creating a Global Cannabis and Hemp Center for Science, Research and Education with the State University of New York “other expert partners.”
Last session, cannabis legalization fell apart in the 11th hour after lawmakers could not agree how cannabis funds would be distributed – the Legislature and governor’s office are both controlled by Democrats – and ultimately lawmakers settled on expanding the state’s decriminalization policies and establishing a process for expunging low-level cannabis-related charges.
BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research estimate New York as a $1.6 billion cannabis market in 2024. Brightfield Group suggests that if the state were to legalize cannabis in 2021, it could be the nation’s second-largest cannabis industry at $2.2 billion in sales by 2023.
Last session, the reforms were opposed by law enforcement organizations and many downstate Democrats. The village board of Islandia, which is on Long Island, has threatened to sue the state if cannabis is legalized.
If Cuomo is successful, New York would become the 12th state to legalize cannabis for adults and the second to legalize a taxed-and-regulated industry via the Legislature.