New York hit a big milestone earlier this year, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana. Now, pot advocates are pushing from something even bigger: legal recreational weed.
State Sen. Liz Krueger, also a Democrat, plans to introduce a bill during next year’s legislative session that would make all marijuana legal in the nation’s second-most populous state. That means New York could legalize as early as the middle of 2015.
“We’re definitely introducing the bill next session,” said Brad Usher, Krueger’s chief of staff. “We’ve received a variety of feedback since we first introduced it last December and we’re working on amending it, so we’re looking to see what we can learn from Colorado and Washington when we reintroduce it.”
Under Krueger’s bill, the New York State Liquor Authority would regulate possession and sale of cannabis. Adults over 21 would be allowed to possess up to two ounces and grow up to six plants at home.
Kruger tried last year to push through a similar bill, but it never got out of committee. The new proposal includes changes to the tax structure and the rules for who could work in the industry.
New York doesn’t allow voter initiatives, so marijuana foes wouldn’t be able to repeal the law quickly if it passed. And no public approval is needed. In the two states where weed is already legal, Colorado and Washington, advocates used the public initiative process to legalize.
“In some ways, not having a referendum makes it harder,” Usher said. “With referendum, you only need 50.1 percent support to win, but getting a bill through to law will probably require broader support to address the risk-averse character of some elected officials.”
It’s still unclear how much support the idea has. The state Senate is controlled by a coalition of conservative lawmakers who haven’t always been open to change on the marijuana front. And Cuomo has at times been hostile to reform. Early this year, he said legalization is “a nonstarter for me.”
Medical weed has been technically legal in New York since January, but the legislature only got around to approving it in June. Cuomo signed the law shortly after.
The state also decriminalized pot in the 1970s. But that law has little effect anymore, since cops are expert at using a loophole to trick residents into revealing their cannabis in public.
Whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rate, yet 87 percent of people arrested in New York on marijuana charges are black or Latino. That racial disparity is one of Krueger’s motivating factors.
“While Krueger doesn’t smoke pot and doesn’t think anyone else should, she doesn’t think the policy of prohibition has been successful in controlling marijuana use, and [thinks] that it should be treated more as a public health issue,” Usher said. “She doesn’t think you should drink either, but making alcohol illegal didn’t really work, and we should have learned that about marijuana as well.”