“There’s Absolutely Not the Votes” for Legalization if Excluded from State Budget Leave a comment

As the April 1 budget deadline looms over legalization negotiations between New York lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senator Diane Savino told Cannabis Wire that if legalization doesn’t happen through the budget, bringing adult use to the state could be mired in delays — for three years.

Cuomo said this week that cannabis-related revenue projections have been removed from his budget “as originally planned for the MTA.”

“Nothing has changed,” Tyrone Stevens, a spokesperson for Cuomo, told Cannabis Wire. “The Governor and legislative leaders have expressed concerns for weeks that we may not have sufficient time to finalize an agreed upon bill that comprehensively regulates adult-use recreational cannabis. The parties will continue to meet on this issue whether it is addressed within or outside of the budget.”

The latter scenario isn’t sitting well with State Senator Diane Savino, who represents southern Brooklyn and part of Staten Island.

“This issue becomes even more critical to do it in the budget because we have a lot of members who represent conservative areas who don’t think they can vote for a freestanding bill to legalize marijuana,” Savino told Cannabis Wire. It’s concerning some lawmakers that local leaders in rural parts of the state are preemptively banning cannabis, and bans are also coming out of areas like Long Island and Dutchess County, she said.

Stevens expressed a similar worry. “Many are concerned that if this issue is not addressed in the budget it is more difficult to address out of the budget. We will be engaging with the legislature, either way, to discuss how we can advance this policy,” Stevens said.

Meanwhile, Smart Approaches to Marijuana has been pushing for lawmakers to slow down and reconsider supporting legalization, and while it’s unclear whether SAM has had a direct impact on swaying lawmakers away from legal cannabis, they’ve “been muddying the waters. And the police organizations are scaring the hell out of people. You have all of this happening and it’s just creating a problem,” Savino told Cannabis Wire.

“There’s absolutely not the votes. If it’s not in the budget, we can’t pass it this year. And if we can’t pass it in an off election year, we won’t pass it in an election year,” Savino said.

The NY GOP cheered Cuomo’s decision not to count on cannabis revenue, tweeting, “In a victory for voices of reason everywhere, the rush to legalize recreational marijuana has been dropped from the budget. We must examine all of the research before jumping to a decision on this important topic.”

The chief operating officer of Vireo Health, one of the 10 licensed medical cannabis companies in New York, emphasized that New Yorkers want legalization, and pointed toward the goal to increase diversity in the cannabis industry.

“Whether or not adult-use legislation is included in this year’s State’s budget, one thing remains clear – the majority of New Yorkers support taxing and regulating cannabis for adult-use. We will continue our work with legislative leaders and advocates to end the War on Drugs and create opportunities for diverse ownership and employment in the cannabis industry,” Ari Hoffnung, the COO of Vireo Health, told Cannabis Wire.

Senate Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes has been perhaps the loudest supporter of industry diversity, telling the New York Times that Cuomo’s plan needed to more specific and far-reaching equity provisions, including pushing for cannabis taxes to go toward communities disproportionately affected by enforcement of cannabis laws.

“They thought we were going to trust that at the end of the day, these communities would be invested in. But that’s not something I want to trust,” Peoples-Stokes told the Times.

There is still time to come to a consensus on legalization in the budget, but that possibility is growing less likely by the day. Still, Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire that she remains “hopeful.”

“I will continue to  work with the Senate and Executive on creating an equitable and just regulated cannabis market for New York State and am hopeful that an agreement can be reached for inclusion of  legislation in the state budget,” Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire.

As New York’s legalization efforts appear headed for hurdles, New Jersey lawmakers are set to vote on their legalization plan on Monday (though, it’s unclear whether there are enough votes for passage). ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha said in a statement that New Jersey’s legalization effort is “one of the most progressive proposals.”

“No state has leaned into social justice through marijuana legalization as wholeheartedly as New Jersey is poised to. This bill sets a baseline for what it looks like to meaningfully acknowledge the human wreckage of the drug war and make good-faith efforts to reverse the damage done.”

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