Cuomo revives weed legalization to help fund state’s COVID recovery

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Third time’s the charm!

Gov. Andrew Cuomo revived plans to legalize adult use of cannabis this year, saying tax revenue from the devil’s lettuce will help the Empire State’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis while also tackling the over-criminalization of Black and brown New Yorkers. 

“This will raise revenue and will end the over-criminalization of this product that has left so many communities of color over-policed and over-incarcerated,” Cuomo said at his State of the State address on Jan. 11.

The move marks Cuomo’s third pass in as many years at allowing adult use of the drug, after measures in the last two budget cycles fell apart due to disagreement with state lawmakers.

So far 15 states and Washington, DC, have legalized recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 or older. In neighboring New Jersey, residents voted to end weed prohibition in November.

The measure unraveled twice in Albany due to disagreements among lawmakers and the governor, with progressive pols pushing to direct tax revenues toward communities of color who have suffered the brunt of the war on drugs, while Cuomo fought to retain more executive control over the funds, the Times reported.

The drug could bring in $300 million in annual tax revenue once the legal weed business really gets rolling, according to state officials, and Cuomo hopes the measure will finally pass this year to help New York out of its looming $15 billion budget gap.

The state’s commander-in-chief also proposed legalizing mobile sports betting to bring in more tax revenue this year.

The bulk of the money would still have to come from the federal government, Cuomo said Monday, calling on New York’s delegation in Washington to direct more funds here ahead of the state’s new fiscal year starting on April 1.

“Our federal representatives must deliver fairness for New York and they must do it quickly,” he said.

He dismissed proposals of raising taxes on the wealthy or cuts to state spending, arguing neither would not bring in nearly enough cash.

“If we raised taxes to the highest income tax rate in the nation on all income over 1 million… we would only raise $1.5 billion,” he said.

However, progressive activists and politicians said the governor was being dishonest about how much money could come from taxing New York’s well-heeled more, saying the state could raise some $50 billion this year through a set of proposed tax increases on the upper crust under the Invest in Our New York Act, which advocates recently rallied for outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office.

“Contrary to @NYGovCuomo’s lies about the likeliest outcome of raising taxes on the wealthiest NYers during #SOTS2021, a set of very popular new policies could yield $50B (far more than his inflated $15B deficit number),” tweeted Daniel Altschuler, the managing director of the activist group Make The Road Action.

Said Manhattan Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou: “[T]his is absolutely not enough. Tax the rich! No more excuses. No more off the backs of the poor. Invest in our communities.”