New York Legalized Weed: Sprouting Up or Up in Smoke?

New York Legalized Weed: Sprouting Up or Up in Smoke?
New York Legalized Weed: Sprouting Up or Up in Smoke?

A headline out of Albany sums up current efforts by New York state lawmakers to legalize marijuana in that state.

As deadline nears, New York's marijuana negotiations hit snags

Talks to legalize marijuana in New York State have come down to the wire, with major issues still to be resolved by negotiators at the Capitol if a tentative deal is to be presented to lawmakers when they return to Albany on Monday.

The Buffalo News reported  Sunday that “talks blew up overnight in a dispute over how marijuana tax revenues would be distributed”.

Rumors leaking out of the negotiations are all over the field.
  • Lawmakers are “trying to get a two-way deal with the Senate and Assembly” that bypasses the Cuomo administration
  • A new “more scaled-down approach” is now being considered
  • The NY Assembly is waiting for the state Senate to move first

With the State’s 2019 legislative session due to expire Wednesday, there is very little time for a consensus to emerge. Separately, the Buffalo News indicated the Senate lacks the votes to pass anything except a bill with a special (local) “opt-in” provision, requiring local governments to affirmatively choose to embrace legalized cannabis sales.

This appears even more onerous than the position backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Earlier this year, Cuomo proposed an opt-out provision. This would permit retail cannabis sales while empowering communities with a local veto over cannabis commerce.

In-state advocacy groups have already criticized the language from Cuomo as “too burdensome”, potentially representing “a poison pill” in cannabis negotiations. There also remain wide divides on how the hundreds of millions of potential tax revenues would be distributed.

More skepticism from the Buffalo News.

In a sign of just how much trouble the legalization bill is in at the Capitol, a Plan B emerged early Monday morning: legislation was introduced in both houses to cut in half financial penalties for possession of a larger amount of marijuana -- one ounce. It also would require the state criminal justice services agency to seal most arrests for marijuana possession and the court system must devise ways to ensure marijuana arrests do not show up in criminal history background checks by the state's legal system. People with marijuana arrests would also have a pathway to get the records expunged.

Call that “Prohibition lite”.

The good news, overall, is that cannabis has now been legalized for adult use in 10 U.S. states, with Illinois about to become #11. The bad news is that the reason why recreational cannabis remains illegal in most of the other 39 states is continued anti-cannabis obstructionism – and greed.

In Canada and the U.S. states that have now fully legalized cannabis usage, “putting an end to the cannabis black market” is normally cited near/at the top of legislators’ priorities.

However, when it comes to executing on these pledges, we see a much different picture. Residual biases toward cannabis and internal in-fighting over the potential (tax) dollars on the table continue to make this a painful process in most states.

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