New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just took the state another step closer toward legalizing marijuana recreationally. He announced on Thursday the formation of a 20-person workforce to draft legislation specifically to allow recreational use by adults. The announcement came soon after a study conducted by the state health department into the effects of weed on public health, the economy, and the criminal justice system.
The report, which the department released last month, concluded that regulating a cannabis market would have so many positives that they would outweigh any potential negatives. In a statement, Cuomo, a Democrat, said, “As we work to implement the report’s recommendations through legislation, we must thoroughly consider all aspects of a regulated marijuana program, including its impact on public health, criminal justice, and State revenue, and mitigate any potential risks associated with it.”
When pressed for comment on the new legislative task force, a spokesperson for state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said that Republicans in the chamber are focusing on security, opportunity, and affordability. “Let the governor and New York City Democrats focus on legalizing drugs, but that is not where our attention is,” he said.
Over the past year, marijuana advocates and lawmakers have been hard at work to tackle cannabis reform. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, more formally Senate Bill S3040, came to life early in 2017 and proposes full legalization. It is still sitting in the Senate Finance Committee, however, and has yet to receive a vote.
Executive director of the New York chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Empire State, David Holland, said, “We are not aware yet of all the different aspects that the governor is considering, but we look forward to reviewing them and making ourselves available to him for guidance in this area.”
NORML has been working very closely with lawmakers to draft the bill that is currently still in committee. It remains cautiously optimistic about the new task force set up by Cuomo. The state Legislature made medical cannabis legal back in 2014, and last year, it further expanded the law to make it more convenient for patients to access and use cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Senator Diane Savino, the one responsible for sponsoring the legislation for medical pot in 2014, said that the state could benefit both socially and economically from legalizing marijuana recreationally. “The state of New York spends tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars trying to regulate a market which most people have long since accepted is harmless in many respects,” Savino said.
Savino, a Democrat representative of parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn, says that to legalize cannabis for adult use, the state will need to amend multiple facets of the law, including both the judicial and penal codes. The Governor’s Office said that creating a regulated market would empower the state to control quality, set quantity and age restrictions, and lower racial disparities in criminalization.
Governor Cuomo, who is now running for his third term, has been advocating for the relaxing of pot-related crimes for years already. Investors in the industry have been among the biggest contributors to his campaign. Cuomo received $65,000 from MedMen Opportunity Fund II LP, based in Culver City, California, and filings show that an executive associated with the fund, Andrew Modlin, contributed another $25,000 toward his campaign.
Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo’s rival for the Democratic nomination, has been loudly calling for complete legalization of cannabis, claiming outspokenly that criminalization of weed hurts minorities disproportionately. Alphonso David, counsel to the governor, will lead the new work force, which will also include experts in economics, public safety, and public health.