There is a lot of pressure on New York this year to legalize marijuana. Lawmakers have spent the past couple of years kicking the idea around, but the state Legislature can’t seem to agree on what it’s going to take to make it happen. There are too many cooks in the kitchen, and they all have an idea of how legalization should be drafted. Yet they end every session with nothing on their plate. Meanwhile, the pandemic is killing the economy, and the state budget is in dire straits. It is why lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are reportedly ready to get it done once and for all.
But will they?
Governor Andrew Cuomo is ready, willing and able to sign a bill into law that establishes a taxed and regulated marijuana market. He was once dead set against legal weed, but then had a change of heart after a report that he commissioned showed a legal system outweighing prohibition. Now, Cuomo wants to legalize cannabis more than ever to help New York recover from the economic setbacks it has experienced since the whole coronavirus debacle took hold. He has faith that 2021 will be the year the legislative suits in Albany finally take this issue up a notch.
“I think this year it is ripe because the state is going to be desperate for funding. Even with Biden, even with the stimulus, we’re still going to need funding,” Cuomo said during a radio program in November. “I think we’re going to get there this year.”
Legislation calling for the legalization of marijuana is waiting for lawmakers to consider once the session begins. Senator Liz Krueger recently submitted a bill that is identical to the one from last year in hopes that it will catch a much-needed break. The proposal is similar to other legalization schemes that we’ve seen across the United States. It would allow adults 21 and over to buy weed (similar to how they do beer), and it would give them the freedom to engage in home cultivation.
At a basic level, Krueger’s bill is precisely what the state is looking to put on the books. But while lawmakers talk a big game about their preparedness to make New York the next legal state, it is possible that the same roadblocks that stood in the way of progress in previous years will rear their ugly heads again.
In addition to not having the legislative support to take this concept to the top, lawmakers argued for a longtime about the design. There were disagreements about how tax revenue should be allotted, how to deal with communities ravaged by prohibition, and some just wanted to ensure they created a fair system that didn’t put the industry exclusively into the hands of rich white men. It was a fiasco.
But this year, the word on the street is that New York is motivated to legalize marijuana to keep pot money from pouring out. Lawmakers were worried that residents would take advantage of New Jersey’s newly legal pot market and spend millions of dollars over there. But that isn’t even an issue anymore — not really.
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Although New Jersey voters approved a ballot measure in the November election to legalize weed — something that was supposed to be official as of January 1 — the state legislature failed to approve the necessary regulations to make it so. Now, legalization could remain in a bizarre purgatory well into 2021.
It’s a situation that may give New York lawmakers an excuse to slow down on the cannabis issue and fight for personal agendas. We could see more arguments about what marijuana legalization should look like in the Empire State, and it could mean that legislative forces end up bungling marijuana legalization again.
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Still, money could motivate political figures not to nitpick and inspire them to follow common sense. The state is in the hole to the tune of more than $10 billion because of the coronavirus. It is in desperate need of new revenue streams to get back on track. The cannabis industry could be of some help. Reports show that legal weed could bring in around $300 million in tax revenue each year.
And while it would take years before the impact made a difference in the budget, the reaping of those benefits are only held back the longer prohibition stands. Meanwhile, Illinois, which opened its legal pot market in January 2019, just sold half a billion dollars of cannabis.