On Wednesday, New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, unveiled basic details about his proposed marijuana legalization plan for 2021.
During his briefing he stated these concerns, “I think too many people have been imprisoned and incarcerated and punished, too many people are black, Latino and poor. It’s exaggerated the injustice of the justice system. For years, I’ve tried to pass it, but this is a year where we do need the funding and a lot of New Yorkers are struggling, so I think this year will give us the momentum to get it over the goal line.”
Cuomo stressed urgency with New York’s plan by comparing it to neighboring states already in the process of legalization. His stance was well received when he stated, “As everyone knows, Massachusetts has legalized marijuana. New Jersey is going to legalize marijuana. So, what are we really talking about at this point?”
The governor’s plan is to create an “equitable structure” for the cannabis market by offering licensing opportunities and assistance to entrepreneurs in communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. Cuomo’s proposal would establish a new office of cannabis management to regulate the state’s marijuana and hemp industries. It seems like an opportunity to create more jobs for a state that is currently hurting financially due to the recent effects of the pandemic and federal government assistance issues that the nation is facing as a whole. The bill is a ray of hope bringing incentives to New York and pushing the plan forward in 2021 seems to be on track.
Current Status of Marijuana in New York
One day after lawmakers representing nearly one-third of the state Senate prefiled a separate comprehensive cannabis reform bill, Cuomo said legalization “Should have happened years ago.”
According to media sources, New York has “one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs in the nation and access is severely limited.” There is a real lack of dispensaries across the state which impacts supply and demand; specifically hurting rural areas.
Regulation inherently increased prices, in part driven by costly production involved in meeting the state’s medical quality standards, which again affected the demand. Adding the patient certification process was a hurdle for New Yorkers and an ongoing issue in New York’s current medical marijuana market.
In 2020, the governor included a proposal geared towards generating tax revenue through the legalization of recreational marijuana sales, with the intention to boost the state economy, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The expected generated tax revenue from marijuana sales once the program is fully operational was estimated to be around $300 million annually. While few additional details are available about the governor’s plan, his office said, “It reflects national standards and emerging best practices to promote responsible use, limiting the sale of cannabis products to adults 21 and over and establishing stringent quality and safety controls including strict regulation of the packaging, labeling, advertising, and testing of all cannabis products.” Cuomo added in a press release, “Not only will legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market produce the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also allows us to directly support the individuals and communities that have been most harmed by decades of cannabis prohibition.”
The same announcements are consistently being made for impacted communities such as, “Cannabis regulation also offers the opportunity to invest in research and direct resources to communities that have been most impacted by cannabis prohibition.” However, while legislators and the governor are both generally in favor of ending prohibition and establishing a regulated cannabis market, there seems to be ongoing disagreement over certain provisions such as the tax structure and where to allocate the resulting revenues.
Rising Questions & Concerns
It’s not immediately clear to what extent Gov. Cuomo’s new plan will address those concerns for New Yorkers, but Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said on Wednesday she agrees with Cuomo, “Our State needs to finally legalize recreational marijuana with an equitable program that generates much-needed revenue for New York.”
As Cuomo stated, the “pressure will be on” even more to legalize cannabis in the state, and lawmakers will approve it “this year” to boost the economy amid the health crises. The next discussion regarding recreational cannabis programs is expected to happen this month at the annual state of the state on Jan. 11th. The virtual event will lay out the governor’s goals for the upcoming legislative session, including the end of cannabis prohibition in New York.
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