Cuomo Still Optimistic New York Can Legalize Cannabis by April 1

Published on February 4, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week that he remains confident the Legislature can vote to legalize adult-use cannabis as part of the state budget, which is due on April 1.

The optimistic comments came Friday, after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-the Bronx, questioned whether lawmakers would have enough time to resolve thorny questions surrounding legalization while also working their way through a $175 billion budget.

“We'll work very hard to get it done. If we can't do it right, then we'll do it later.”

While both the Democratic governor and Heastie support legalization, there’s not yet an agreement on the details, such as tax rates and rules about how the product should be sold and regulated.

Cuomo said that while getting a good bill passed is more important than the timing of the vote, he’s not giving up hope of adding New York to the list of states like California, Massachusetts and Colorado that have lifted penalties for using the drug.

Cuomo: Let Cities Opt out of Cannabis Shops if NY Legalizes

“We’ll work very hard to get it done,” Cuomo said on WCNY radio. “In this business, six weeks is a lot of time. If we can’t do it right, then we’ll do it later.”

Attaching complicated proposals to the state budget — even if they aren’t strictly an issue of state finances — is one way Cuomo has used to get leverage over the Legislature. Removing the issue from the budget could complicate the negotiations over legalization, and potentially delay passage.

One possible sticking point: Heastie wants legalization accompanied by legislation expunging the criminal convictions of low-level drug offenders as an attempt to respond to decades of racial and economic inequities during the war on drugs.

Heastie’s comments expressing doubts about a quick vote on Thursday angered legalization advocates who questioned why it should take so long when New York has examples of other states to look to.

“With eight states now having enacted regulatory structures and launched consumer sales over the last five years, it’s certainly less of an unknown now,” the pro-legalization group NORML wrote in a tweet to Heastie.

Heastie responded to his critics with a plea for patience.

“I didn’t say we can’t,” he tweeted in an exchange with another advocate. “I just said I’m not optimistic. I want to get it right rather than beat a ‘time clock.'”

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