Weed it and weep: State lawmakers fail to legalize marijuana ahead of 2020 budget deadline

Just said no: The state Legislature approved a $175 billion budget on Sunday that omits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to create a legal weed market in New York.
Governor Cuomo’s Office / Mike Groll

Albany puff, puff, passed on marijuana legalization.

The state Legislature approved a $175 billion budget on Sunday that omits Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to create a legal weed market in New York.

Cuomo attributed the setback to disagreements over the nuts and bolts of legalization — insisting that state lawmakers haven’t fallen prey to reefer madness.

“In concept, we have an agreement,” Cuomo told reporters on Friday, “but the devil is in the details, and that’s going to take more time to work out.”

Cuomo announced a legalization scheme in January that gave municipal governments the ability to opt out of the state’s marijuana program, forbade the sale of marijuana to anyone under 21 years old, and promised to raise $300 million in annual state-tax revenue by the 2024-25 fiscal year.

Originally planned for inclusion in the 2020 budget, the governor hinted earlier this month that concerns over how the drug would be taxed, where that money would go, and safety concerns raised by law-enforcement and constituents had made the bill’s passage ahead of the budget’s April 1 deadline a long shot.

“There is a wide divide on marijuana,” Cuomo said on March 11. “I believe ultimately we can get there, and we must get there — I don’t believe we can get there in two weeks.”

State lawmakers still have an opportunity to pass new weed laws before the end of this year’s legislative session in June, and Cuomo described legalization as the major issue left over from budget negotiations.

“As far as what’s not going to get done and what’s going to get carried over, the main thing is probably going to be marijuana legalization,” the governor said.

News of the legalization setback outraged drug reform advocates, including 200 members of the Start Smart New York coalition, who rallied outside the State Legislature on Wednesday in support of the bill.

Kassandra Frederique, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, described the legislature’s inability to reach a consensus ahead of the April 1 deadline as a failure of leadership, which will have very real consequences for New Yorkers.

“Each day marijuana legalization is not passed, someone is arrested, deported, evicted or loses custody of a child because of criminalization,” Frederique said. “Each day that New York’s leaders maintain prohibition, someone can’t pass a background check, has their parole revoked, or loses a job.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
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