Cuomo Proposes Changes To Pot Plan

For the past two years, both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic leadership in the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly agreed that recreational marijuana should be legalized. To date, however, the Governor and the Legislature have not been able to reach agreement on the specifics.

This year, members of the Legislature have once again introduced the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (Bill S.854-Krueger/A.1248-Peoples-Stokes). Gov. Cuomo has introduced his own recreational marijuana bill (Bill S.2509-Budget/A.3009-Budget (Part H)). The Governor has expressed a desire to include recreational marijuana legalization in this year’s budget.

On February 16, 2021, Gov. Cuomo announced that his 30-day budget amendments would include substantive changes to his recreational marijuana proposal. (Thirty-day budget amendments are amendments that a governor may make within 30 days of submitting the executive budget to the Legislature.) According to City & State New York, the Governor’s 30-day amendments moved his proposal closer to the Legislature’s proposal; however, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) commented that “‘we still have a ways to go’” before the Governor and the Legislature are on the same page.

There are several substantive differences between the two pot proposals, including the following:

  • Gov. Cuomo’s proposal would keep regulatory authority over the marijuana industry centralized under the Governor’s appointees, while the Legislature’s proposal would give the Legislature more input into the membership of the Cannabis Control Board;
  • The Legislature’s proposal would allow New Yorkers to cultivate up to six marijuana plants in their homes, while the Governor’s bill would bar residential marijuana cultivation; and
  • The Legislature’s proposal would provide for “the automatic expungement, vacature or sealing of low-level pot convictions that would not be crimes under the new law,” while the Governor’s proposal would only allow retrial or resentencing for persons currently incarcerated for low-level marijuana crimes;

The Legislature and the Governor also have differing views on how tax revenue derived from the recreational marijuana industry should be spent.

On some issues, there is agreement; both the Governor and the Legislature would allow people with criminal records to obtain marijuana-related licenses, and both the Governor and the Legislature would reduce the penalties for illegal marijuana sales (for example, the sale of marijuana to a person under 21).

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms disagrees with both marijuana proposals. Reducing or eliminating the penalty for selling a dangerous drug sends the wrong message to young people. Furthermore, legalizing recreational pot would have a negative effect on traffic safety and public health. Hopefully, continued disagreements between the Governor and the Legislature will doom efforts to legalize recreational marijuana this year just as they have in prior years.