A top New York senator described marijuana legalization in the state as an inevitability in the wake of New Jersey voters’ decision to approve the measure at the ballot last month.
At a press briefing, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said adult-use legalization in New York is “not so much a matter of if, it’s a matter of when and it’s a matter of how.”
Stewart-Cousins went on to say the main stumbling block to legalizing marijuana has been the question of how to allocate cannabis sales tax revenues.
“The conversation has always been, what happens to the revenues?” she said. “How do we include disparately impacted communities in the economy of this industry? And how do we make sure that resources to this disparately impacted communities are gotten in those communities?”
In the past two state budgets, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to legalize recreational marijuana through his annual budget proposals to lawmakers but neither effort came to pass. In 2019, talks with the legislature on marijuana legalization provisions in the budget broke down over allocation disputes highlighted by Stewart-Cousins, while earlier this year the measure was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a keen marijuana legalization proponent, also faced difficulties in passing a bill to legalize cannabis through the legislature. So he turned to the ballot process. Now, with New Jersey voting to legalize recreational marijuana and lawmakers busy crafting a legalization bill, it appears the issue is once again at the forefront of New York legislators’ minds.
Shortly after the election, Gov. Cuomo said the “pressure will be on” to legalize marijuana in New York to ensure tax dollars are not lost by its residents making the short journey to New Jersey to buy cannabis legally. He argued this is especially crucial to offset the economic losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You have such a [budget] gap now,” he said. “I think it’s going to be an easier conversation.”
Asked whether recent developments in New Jersey have affected legislators in New York regarding marijuana legalization, Stewart-Cousins responded “I think that it certainly is a big piece of it, of course.”
Following the November elections, New York Democrats now hold a veto-proof supermajority in the Senate. This gives progressive senators more leverage to outline the contours of a marijuana legalization bill, rather than pandering to Cuomo’s vision for legal cannabis in New York, as they could have the votes to override the governor’s veto. New York legislators are seemingly not the only ones to be influenced by recent events in neighboring New Jersey. A new poll shows that support for marijuana legalization among New Yorkers is higher than ever following the vote. Sienna College survey reports the measure has the support of 60 percent of registered voters in New York, compared to 55 percent when it last conducted a poll in February.