New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has apparently yielded to a top Senate lawmaker’s demands concerning home marijuana cultivation and social equity funding in the ongoing negotiations surrounding cannabis legalization in the Empire State.
Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger suggested as much in an interview with WCNY radio where she said she’s “extremely pleased” the governor agreed to allow home grows and that they’d also found common ground on how to allocate marijuana tax revenues for the purposes of promoting social equity in a legal cannabis industry.
Sen. Krueger is the lead sponsor on a bill – the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) – that would allow home grows and establish a commercial cannabis industry, while Cuomo would prefer to legalize marijuana through his annual state budget, as he’s attempted the past three years, and continue criminalizing cannabis cultivation for personal use. Marijuana reform advocates also tend to favor the social equity provisions in Krueger’s bill to help undo some of the harms in communities most affected in the long history of New York’s war on drugs.
Krueger then said, “700 issues have been resolved, and there’s one or two left, mostly relating to the issues of penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana and how to identify them.”
What’s also clear now is that the push to legalize marijuana in New York this year will take place through the legislature with a standalone bill rather than the budget process, as Cuomo would prefer. The state’s spending legislation has an April 1 deadline, meaning lawmakers have more time to get the measure over the line, but Krueger insisted they must “get it done” as soon as possible.
“Since I’ve never gotten this close to the deadline before, I’m feeling that there is impetus to get this done as quickly as possible, and I am prepared to do everything in my power to close this out, get this bill to both floors and get it signed by the governor,” she said.
While full details of the legislation following negotiations with Gov. Cuomo are yet to be revealed, speculation is mounting that the sexual assault allegations against the governor as well as his administration’s handling of Covid-19 nursing home death records has left him with little political capital to advance his interests. Aside from Cuomo’s alleged indiscretions and mishandling of Covid-19 data, another ace up the legislature’s sleeve is the fact Democrats hold supermajority control over the legislature. This means they could vote as a block to override Gov. Cuomo’s veto of the MRTA, were it forthcoming.
Responding to this line of inquiry, Krueger said, “you can’t ignore the fact that there was an interest in getting the marijuana bill done” on the governor’s side once the allegations emerged. While Cuomo made tentative apologies for his conduct, he was also reaching out to legislators to work on the marijuana legalization bill. Krueger said the subsequent negotiations had largely taken place between senior aides before indicating a certain level of fatigue on the issue.
“We have watched as states far, far more red and conservative than our own have moved down the road into legalization, and we just feel like we’ve talked to everyone in the state of New York,” Krueger said. “Everyone has watched, everybody’s waiting. We have been working our hardest to get a balanced, rational bill out there. We’ve done so—let’s just get it done.”
Not just in red states. New Jersey recently passed a marijuana legalization bill following a voter-approved ballot measure, which increases the pressure on New York lawmakers as the Garden State could get a jump ahead when it comes to establishing a legal marijuana market.
Krueger isn’t the only legislator more optimistic at the prospect of reaching an agreement on a marijuana legalization bill. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said the current question over impaired driving “will be resolved sooner than later,” while Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) thinks “the executive is moving closer to where” the MRTA sponsors are on the issue. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) went so far as to say the negotiations have been “really good and really fruitful and I’m really encouraged… I’ve never felt this encouraged before.”