Cuomo Wants Cannabis Now
New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday, March 11 that he wasn’t sure if recreational cannabis would be a part of this year’s budget. In an hour-long news conference, he divulged that he has his doubts, but is still hopeful. “We can get there and we must get there,” he said. Cuomo has done an about-face on legalization. In the past, he was against it. As a law-and-order Democrat, the governor before 2013 called cannabis a dangerous gateway drug.
Cuomo wasn’t thrilled to sign the Compassionate Care Act in 2014, which brought medical cannabis to the Empire State. In 2017 however, he expanded the program. The headwinds of public opinion and a challenger last election, former Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon–who was overtly pro-legalization, changed his tune. Now, Cuomo wonders if state lawmakers will make legalization funding available for the budget due April 1.
The problem is, there remains a “wide divide” among legislators. The governor doubted whether they could cross the chasm in such a short time. Note that the state legislature is controlled by Democrats who by-and-large support legalization. If they miss the April deadline, lawmakers could make a deal on the issue in mid-June. Should this occur, a recreational program wouldn’t likely take shape until 2020, analysts say.
What are the Issues?
“I’ve been to this show before,” Cuomo told reporters. Controversial issues are often bundled into the state’s budget. But cannabis seems to be a special case. There are still a host of issues. Law enforcement is a big one. How cannabis will be taxed and how much state and local governments can collect from its sale, are still up in the air. Pricing is another issue.
It isn’t just cannabis that’s the sticking point. Cuomo said there may be an even wider divide on criminal justice reform and a six-year local property tax cap. Cuomo said that criminal justice reform must be a part of any budget and that this divide was even wider than that on cannabis. So what would New York’s Program Look Like?
Cuomo’s proposal is called the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA). It would create an Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), which would regulate and oversee the state’s recreational program and take over the medical program already in place. Adults age 21 and over would be able to purchase cannabis at a recreational shop. The OCM would set up a regulatory structure, issue licenses, and so on. Currently, New York’s 33,000 card-carrying patients only have access to vape pen cartridges, capsules, and tinctures. The CRTA would allow flower to be purchased.
The bill would also expunge the criminal records of those convicted of cannabis-related crimes. More than two decades of criminal justice data shows that Black and Latino New Yorkers are disproportionately affected by such laws. Over 700,000 state residents have been affected by such a conviction. The law would also prioritize minority and female-led businesses. Taxes on the program would be levied on growers and distributors. Home growing is out, except in limited medical cases.
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