NY Cannabis Advocates Hope For Solid Bill As Lawmakers Negotiate

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ENDWELL, NY (WSKG) — Over the last week, leaders in the New York Legislature have been negotiating standalone legislation that would have the potential to legalize recreational marijuana, and advocates a slightly leery, but hopeful about a long-awaited deal.

A cannabis plant being grown by Cornell University researchers in Geneva, NY. (Vaughn Golden/WSKG Public Media)

New York would be the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana if the legislature and governor can reach a deal. (Vaughn Golden/WSKG Public Media)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed on Friday that his office was working to negotiate a deal on cannabis with the legislature outside the budget, a departure from his years-long stance that it must pass through the state’s funding measure. On Sunday, both houses of the legislature released their budget proposals. Neither contained legislation on cannabis.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters Monday, he expected to reach a deal and vote on the legislation before the budget needs to be passed at the end of the month.

Pro-cannabis advocates are mostly optimistic about the prospects for a deal, especially considering the measure has been thrown out the budget for the last two years despite Democratic control over the legislature and governor’s office.

“We’ve said that we absolutely have to get it right,” said Melissa Moore, New York Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-cannabis advocacy group. “We’re not just rushing to the finish line in any way, shape or form, but being really clear that I think there is an opportunity right now for New York to still be a national leader on this issue.”

Most advocacy groups in favor of legalization and other reforms support the existing proposal in the legislature called the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, or MRTA, as opposed to the governor’s proposal. Moore said she believes the legislative leaders carrying the bill will not back down during negotiations.

“If the basis for what is going to move outside of the budget in the next week potentially is the MRTA as the backbone of that, then I feel much more comfortable about that scenario than I would around rushed budget negotiations that would be based off of the Governor’s position,” Moore said.

Troy Smit Deputy Director of Empire State NORML, another advocacy group, is skeptical that the parties can reach a deal, and he claims a bad deal will not be effective anyway.

“These users have been already participating in an illicit market and will not be deterred to continue doing so if a bill is passed that doesn’t fully meet their needs,” Smit said, pointing to several aspects of the governor’s plan, like its taxation structure and home growing provisions.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Liz Krueger, told WCNY’s the Capitol Pressroom Thursday there the only hang ups in negotiations were related to provisions about driving while intoxicated.