New York Moves Toward More Marijuana Controls

Lawmakers want to regulate sales and taxes. 

January 28, 2020

ALBANY, N.Y.—New York state lawmakers expect to enact a law in the next few months that will regulate and tax recreational marijuana, and it may be part of a new state budget that must be approved by April, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In spending legislation introduced last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), again included language legalizing marijuana statewide, while allowing counties to opt out of legal sales if they choose. A poll released last week showed a record margin of public support for legalization, and one senator, who was opposed, now says he will support a marijuana bill.

“Let’s be frank: We can buy this in any high school in New York state,” said state Sen. Pete Harckham (D). “The marketplace has spoken, so it’s time we tax this and can put that money to a social good.”

Last year, Sen. Harckham and several other Democratic senators were reluctant to embrace marijuana legislation. Recently, he traveled to Massachusetts, where marijuana is sold in retail stores, and discovered that “the sky is not falling,” he said.

The governor has supported legalized marijuana since his 2018 re-election bid, but some critics charge that he didn’t do enough last year to convince wavering legislators. The lawmakers also disagreed on how to distribute revenue from marijuana taxes, estimated to be as much as $20 million in the coming fiscal year.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and state Sen. Liz Krueger are the legislative sponsors of a different marijuana bill that directs how tax money would be used. They hope to see funds directed to drug treatment and traffic-safety programs, and their bill specifies that half of the new funds would be invested into communities that were disproportionately impacted by laws that criminalize the possession and sale of drugs.

Both the legislators’ bill and the governor’s proposal would create a new Office of Cannabis Management that would distribute funds, issue licenses and approve new products.

Republican legislators, including Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, say legalizing marijuana sends a bad message to children. Other opponents agree. “We’re in the middle of the vaping and opioid epidemics, and to add another drug makes no sense to us,” said Kyle Belokopitsky, executive director of the New York State PTA, which represents school parents.