The coronavirus pandemic halted any chance New York had at passing marijuana reform earlier this year, but lawmakers have reintroduced the idea as a way to kickstart the economy once a semblance of normalcy returns. New York state Sens. Jessica Ramos, Jamaal Bailey, and Brad Hoylman, in conjunction with the Legal Aid Society, urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers this week to legalize recreational marijuana.
In a press release, the lawmakers stated tax revenue from legal cannabis could alleviate growing budget concerns in New York. The state currently holds a $13 billion deficit and Cuomo announced last week the state needs $61 billion in federal aid to avoid “devastating” cuts to New York schools, police departments, hospitals, and more.
“It’s not enough to say the state doesn’t have money. We have to find it,” Ramos told The New York Post. “I believe legalizing marijuana can help.”
Cuomo has advocated strongly in favor of marijuana legalization over the past year, though his efforts to legalize through the state budget earlier this year fell short. Differences in opinions about how marijuana-generated tax revenue should be allocated appeared reconcilable in March, but then the coronavirus outbreak hit New York. With an April 1 deadline looming, lawmakers focused on passing a workable budget to keep the state running amid the pandemic.
During a recent press conference, Cuomo was asked why he hasn’t pushed marijuana legalization or sports betting as economic kickstarters over federal aid. Cuomo objected to the characterization.
“It’s the federal government’s obligation as part of managing this national pandemic that they provide financial relief to state and local governments, just the way they took care of the big corporations,” Cuomo said.
“I support legalization of marijuana passage,” he added. “I’ve worked very hard to pass it. I believe we will, but we didn’t get it done this last session because it’s a complicated issue and it has to be done in a comprehensive way.”
Legalization advocates agree with Cuomo’s sentiment, although they still pushed for legal marijuana as an immediate solution instead of a problem for later.
“Legalizing cannabis does not happen overnight, and the COVID-19 pandemic will likely continue to affect our society past 2020, the approval of a regulated cannabis program – gets us closer to helping the communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and over-policing,” Ryan Lepore, Deputy Director of New York City NORML, told New York County Politics.
“Tax Revenue, Job Creation and a de-burdening on our criminal justice system are now needed more than ever. So immediately implementing a legal cannabis program would align with the state’s ability to recover in the coming years post-COVID-19.”