Advocates Back Legislative Effort to Legalize Marijuana in New York
By Jimmy Vielkind
Proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana in New York are
putting their weight behind a bill in the state legislature, saying
they prefer it to the competing framework that Gov. Andrew Cuomo
has included as part of his proposed $193 billion budget.
Associations representing growers and medical marijuana
companies that operate in the state as well as the Drug Policy
Alliance, which supports legalizing the drug for social-justice
reasons, issued a rare joint statement in support of the pending
Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, or MRTA.
Their focus comes as the Democratic governor grapples with
federal inquiries into the state's handling of Covid-19 deaths in
nursing homes and accusations that he sexually harassed two former
Mr. Cuomo's spokeswoman has denied a claim detailed Wednesday by
Lindsey Boylan, who worked for the state from 2015 to 2018. The
governor said in a Saturday night statement that he never acted
inappropriately toward Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former aide
who said Mr. Cuomo asked questions about her sex life that made her
uncomfortable. On Sunday, Mr. Cuomo said he was sorry his actions
had been interpreted as unwanted flirtation.
State lawmakers have spent the past two weeks considering ways
to be more assertive over matters of policy, which Mr. Cuomo has
dominated since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago.
The course they choose could have consequences on the contours of
marijuana legalization in the state.
"This is really a question of whether the Legislature will stand
up to the governor, use the power which it has in this moment, and
fight for just and equitable policies," said Jeremy Saunders,
co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a grass-roots lobbying
organization that supports legalizing marijuana.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia allow recreational
use of the drug, according to the National Conference of State
Legislatures. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation
setting marijuana regulations last week.
Mr. Cuomo announced his support for legalizing marijuana during
his 2018 re-election campaign, and the Democratic leaders of the
state Legislature have also said they want to enact a law
legalizing the drug this year. Lawmakers said they want to use
revenue from taxing the drug to help fill a projected deficit. They
must adopt a budget before the state's fiscal year ends on March
Opponents of legalizing marijuana -- including many Republican
lawmakers and the New York State PTA -- say a new law would lead to
more use by students and higher-potency products. But the bigger
hang-up has been among Democratic lawmakers, who since 2019 haven't
been able to agree on how to handle revenue generated by
legalization and legislative input on how cannabis is
The MRTA dedicates a fixed percentage of revenue to a
social-equity fund designated for use in Black and brown
communities that were disproportionately affected by marijuana
criminalization, its sponsors said.
The bill would give legislators two appointees to a board that
would oversee cannabis policy. Mr. Cuomo's proposal would set aside
fixed dollar amounts for social-equity funding and give the
executive total control of the policy board. The governor amended
his proposal in February to allow for delivery services, which were
already permitted in the MRTA.
"As the governor said, we believe that if marijuana doesn't get
in the budget, it won't get done," Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser
to the governor, said. "The ultimate program will be subject to
negotiations with the legislature."
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from
Buffalo who sponsors the MRTA, said she wants to see it enacted on
its own and wasn't satisfied with the governor's amendments.
"People think folks will vote for it because it is a part of the
budget, but I think it will pass anyway," she said. "It's a real
possibility that something could happen in the next couple of
weeks, prior to the budget."
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat from
the Bronx, said his conference was having productive discussions
about marijuana. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea
Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Yonkers, said members were talking
about voting on the MRTA before the budget but no decision had been
Ngiste Abebe, president of the New York Medical Cannabis
Industry Association, a trade group, said New York lawmakers should
approve the MRTA quickly so New Jersey doesn't get a jump on
"Time is of the essence," Ms. Abebe said.
THE QUESTION: I recently had breakfast at the last Howard
Johnson's restaurant operating in the U.S. Where in New York was
-- Know the answer? Write me an email!
THE LAST ANSWER: The last New York governor to be impeached was
William Sulzer, who was removed from office in 1913.
Write to Jimmy Vielkind at Jimmy.Vielkind@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 28, 2021 19:14 ET (00:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.