Advocates for legalized marijuana haven’t given up hope for this session

Legislative Gazette file photo

With the budget passed amid a global health emergency, the legalization of marijuana has been put on the back burner for now.

However, a handful of state lawmakers are regularly urging their colleagues to resume session and pass a recreational cannabis bill before June.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed before the budget’s passing that legislation to legalize the drug in New York would not be included in the 2021 state budget as a result of shifted priorities.

“I don’t believe we’ll get there because in truth that is something that had to be talked through and worked through, and the Legislature wasn’t here,” Cuomo said to WAMC Northeast Public Radio President Alan Chartock.

As the coronavirus outbreak escalated in New York, turning New York City into the global epicenter for the virus, several proposals from January’s Executive Budget were left out of the completed 2021 budget.

However, Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, said that there is still room for changes in the budget as the year progresses. 

“This budget is a crisis budget. It is not what we expected to be passing when we came to Albany in January, but it is what this moment calls for,” Krueger said.

Krueger’s marijuana bill (S.1527-c) creates a regulatory framework for the adult use of marijuana that would have generated revenue for state and local communities. The Assembly version is sponsored by Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo.

Cuomo included this legalization in the budget for the second year in a row, having previously expressed the economic benefits and need for decriminalization reform at his 2020 State of the State Address.

Despite the legislation failing to pass again in the state, Ari Hoffnung, the CEO of Vireo Health of New York, believes that lawmakers will succeed in the legalization of marijuana one day in the future.

“We look forward to reengaging on this important policy issue at the appropriate time and continuing to work with the Department of Health to make medical marijuana more affordable and accessible to New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis,” Hoffnung said.

Proponents of the law hoped its passing would take the first steps to remedy communities disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of the drug. Included in the proposal was a purchasing age restriction, tax system and creation of an Office of Cannabis Management that would oversee production and quality to ensure public safety. 

In the U.S., marijuana is legalized for recreational adult use in 11 states and for medicinal use in 33 states, as well as Washington D.C.

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana, like Managing Director of Drug Policy Alliance Kassandra Frederique, hope that lawmakers can return to session to pass this law once the worst of the pandemic has passed.

“We remain committed to seeing [marijuana] legalization passed in New York at a time when critical components of equity and community reinvestment can be thoroughly addressed,” said Frederique.