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Is New York on Its Way to Legalizing Marijuana?

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his plans to study a regulated marijuana program in New York State, elected officials and advocates say they are hopeful New York will join a nationwide movement to legalize cannabis but expressed mixed views on whether Cuomo will be the driving force behind it.

In his $168 billion fiscal year 2019 budget, Cuomo included funding to conduct a study in conjunction with state agencies to look at the health, economic and criminal justice effects of legalizing marijuana. The study would also look at how marijuana legalization in neighboring states will affect New York.

Cuomo—who has opposed legalizing recreational marijuana—referred to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign pledge to legalize recreational cannabis and Massachusetts legalizing recreational adult use in 2016. He also pointed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent announcement that the U.S. Department of Justice would revoke the Cole memo, which previously directed the Justice Department to permit states to execute their own marijuana laws with restricted federal involvement.

“If it was legalized in Jersey and it was legal in Massachusetts and the federal government allowed it to go ahead, what would that do to New York because it’s right in the middle,” he announced during his budget address. “But this is an important topic, it’s a hotly debated topic—pardon the pun—and it’d be nice to have some facts in the middle of the debate once in a while.”

The legal market in New Jersey is projected to reach a possible value of $1.2 billion, and the state expects $300 million in tax revenue per year from spending by consumers in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York, according to another report by the DPA.

“We are stuck in the middle, and I don’t think that it’s in New York’s interest to become a barrier state where basically, like a Customs or Border patrol, you end up having to inspect every car coming from those legalization states into New York to see if they’re carrying cannabis,” David Holland, a litigation attorney and executive director of the Empire State chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said.

New York State Senator Liz Krueger—a Democrat and the Senate sponsor of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)—told Observer that Cuomo’s study is a “very good sign.”

Krueger said the legislation, which would legalize, supervise and tax marijuana, has been amended to address concerns and that the Assembly had a hearing on it for the first time earlier this month.

She anticipates the state will save $300 million to $400 million a year on its criminal justice system and get $500 million in tax revenues with more than $2 billion worth of new economic activity. (She insisted on being “careful” with estimates since it has not been implemented in the state yet.)

She noted that 2018 is the fourth year in which she has carried the bill and that she has constantly reviewed and updated it based on what she has seen in other states.

“Originally, the governor was very, very clear: he would never consider marijuana legalization—either medical or recreational,” Krueger said. “As we’ve seen, his thinking evolved over the years, and we have passed a medical marijuana law in New York State, and we have amended it and expanded it since that time.”

Is New York on Its Way to Legalizing Marijuana?

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