Recreational Pot Gets Caught In The Legislative Weeds

For the past several months, New Yorkers have been inundated with relentless media messaging about recreational marijuana. The message has been simple: Recreational marijuana legalization in New York is inevitable.

Regardless of the issue in question, the language of inevitability is used in politics to discourage and demoralize opposing voices. Further, it is used to sidestep debate on a controversial issue; if a piece of legislation is a “done deal,” there is no need to respond to (or even acknowledge) arguments against it. There is a problem with the use of inevitability messages, however; sometimes, the thing that is supposed to be inevitable doesn’t happen.

Here in New York, “big marijuana” has suffered two setbacks in its (supposedly inevitable) push to get marijuana fully legalized this year. The first setback was Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s acknowledgment that a marijuana legalization bill would not be included in the 2019-2020 state budget. The second setback occurred last week when a scheduled vote on a marijuana legalization bill in New Jersey was canceled.

Despite support from Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and state legislative leaders, New Jersey officials could not reach an agreement on the provisions of their pot bill. According to The New York Times, New Jersey “lawmakers were unsure about how to tax marijuana sales. Others feared legalization would flood the state’s congested streets and highways with impaired drivers… Fissures grew over whether it was necessary to expunge criminal records” for possession of large amounts of marijuana.” Concerns were raised about “marijuana bodegas” springing up in low-income urban areas, and about high pot-related arrest rates among African-Americans in Colorado that persisted even after marijuana was legalized there. It now appears that marijuana legislation is unlikely to be voted upon in New Jersey until after the November elections.

The concerns that led New Jersey lawmakers to reconsider marijuana legalization are just as valid here in New York. And if marijuana legislation can be blocked in one liberal-dominated northeastern state, it can be blocked in another. There is nothing inevitable about the legalization of recreational marijuana.