New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a proposal on Wednesday to legalize adult-use cannabis in the Empire State, which could add a much-needed source of tax revenue amid the financial devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan was announced as part of Cuomo's annual State of the State address.
"Not only will legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provide 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," Cuomo said in a statement.
The plan emerged just one day after state lawmakers prefiled their own legalization bill, which is identical to a version that did not pass last year, Marijuana Moment reported.
A press release from the governor about the proposal was scant on details, but for now, the plan includes the creation of a new Office of Cannabis Management to oversee New York's adult-use program, as well as existing medical and hemp programs. It called for the creation of "an equitable structure" for the new market that offers "licensing opportunities and assistance to entrepreneurs in communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs."
"I think too many people have been imprisoned and incarcerated and punished. Too many of those people are Black, Latino, and poor. It's exaggerated the injustice of the justice system," Cuomo said during a Wednesday press conference.
The program, once fully rolled out, is expected to generate some $300 million in revenue, according to the governor's office.
It comes as little surprise that New York would move so quickly to kickstart efforts for legalization again in the aftermath of the November election during which New Jersey voters approved adult-use cannabis in the Garden State. New Jersey was expected to precipitate a domino effect of legalization in neighboring states like Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania. Experts predicted authorities in states like New York would not likely enjoy watching potential tax revenue move across state lines.
Even before the election, New York and New Jersey were simultaneously gunning to legalize, which media portrayed as a race to the legalization finish line. New York State Sen. Liz Krueger echoed that sentiment in early November, telling the New York Times she was cheering New Jersey voters on in hopes their progress could be the motivation New York needs to "beat them to the punch."
A longtime cannabis legalization advocate, Krueger originally introduced New York's Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act in 2013 alongside New York State Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes. A version of the bill has been reintroduced in every session since. Gov. Cuomo, a more recent convert to adult-use cannabis legalization, has been pushing to legalize it through the state budget since 2019. He has continued to butt heads with lawmakers on a number of issues, including whether to pass legalization in the state budget, CannabisWire reported, and whether to allocate tax revenue specifically toward social equity. This year, with New York facing as much as $59 billion in budget shortfalls into 2022, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the urgency just might force a compromise.
"I've supported it 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. I think this year will give us the momentum to get it over the goal line," Cuomo said during a Wednesday press conference.