Andrew Cuomo Backflips on NYC's Weed Legalization

Despite recent indications to the contrary, the New York Governor has stated it is highly unlikely that cannabis will be made legal through the most recent state budget.

Back in January, it was looking very possible that New York would be legalizing cannabis for recreational consumption when Governor Andrew Cuomo included marijuana legalization in his budget proposal.

At the time, Cuomo stated that in order to "legalize adult-use cannabis, it is best done in the budget. I said that last year. I believe the budget is the opportunity, frankly, to make some tough decisions and work through tough issues that without the budget can often languish, and I suggest that we get it done in the budget."

And while cannabis legalization was also included in the 2019 budget and failed to be passed, the 2020 New York budget presented a unique opportunity for the ever-changing cannabis legislative landscape as it was being considered on an "accelerated" basis due to the coronavirus crisis. Additionally, the governor insisted that the budget wouldn't be "barebones," implying that he didn't wish to allow the COVID-19 crisis to dampen his sustained efforts to push for legalization.

Despite all of this, however, Governor Cuomo has since changed his tune on the matter, now stating that the cannabis legalization efforts are "effectively over."

The New York Governor also stated that "marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn't get a chance to do."

Understandably, New York has its hands full with the coronavirus crisis, with close to 45% of the US's total 10,938 deaths occurring in New York alone. It was always a likely outcome that cannabis legalization would be put on the budgetary back-burner until the current crisis has been fully grappled with, particularly given that New York has been deemed the "epicentre" of the crisis.

Moreover, with the COVID-19 death toll and infection rates exponentially rising throughout New York, it is easy to consider cannabis legalisation to be a very trivial issue by comparison.

However, it is also important to think of the long-term and to consider how the economy will emerge from the ashes of the COVID-19 crisis. With lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in place, many businesses have been forced to either shut down or lay off workers in order to stay afloat. As a result, just shy of 10 million American's have filed for unemployment benefits in the past two weeks.

When one looks at the economic benefits which accompany cannabis legalisation, such as tax revenue, job growth, and nearby economic stimulation, these factors certainly would have aided New York's COVID-19 recovery efforts.

And of course, passing a cannabis legalization bill would help to curb New Yorks cannabis black market, which is thriving amid the coronavirus crisis. This is of particular importance as the Governor previously sought the counsel of the Department of Health to help him determine whether he should legalizing the plant. In response, the DOH stated that the War on Weed "had not curbed marijuana use despite the commitment of significant law enforcement resources."

The Department went on to say that cannabis legalization would enable "better control licensing, ensure quality control and consumer protection, and set age and quantity restrictions," which in turn would help to limit illegal sales and purchases of weed.

This is an issue that Ontario is currently wrestling with, as the Canadian province recently deemed their cannabis dispensaries "non-essential" stores, meaning that all pot shops had to close for 14 days. In response to the closures, illicit cannabis vendors almost immediately sprung up. Now, Ontario is allowing their pot stores to re-open in attempts to curb black market sales.

All in all, Cuomo's promising words on marijuana legalisation have proven to be unsubstantiated, unrealized and disappointing for the second consecutive year.


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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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