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Here’s where New York’s next governor stands on marijuana legalization

Published on August 10, 2021
photograph of New York Governor Kathy Hochul holding a microphone
Incoming Gov. Kathy Hochul has the opportunity to make marijuana legalization a success in New York State. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this morning that he would resign, days after the release of a damning report found that he had sexually harassed multiple women and may face criminal charges. Cuomo said his resignation would take effect on Aug. 24.

With Cuomo’s departure, New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will step into the spotlight in Albany. So what does that mean for New York’s coming adult-use cannabis market?

The short answer: It’s good news.

Hochul’s position on marijuana legalization has, in the near past, mirrored that of Cuomo: Pragmatic but not passionate.

Her most extensive comments came in an interview with Cheddar earlier this year, prior to the passage of a legalization bill by the New York state legislature.

In that interview, Hochul called legalization “long overdue” in New York. “We need the money,” she said. “People who were reluctant before didn’t join us in promoting this. Now, all of a sudden, you’re saying, ‘Well, I guess because of COVID, with a $15 billion budget deficit, we need to find money anywhere we can.'”

Hochul also acknowledged the importance of social equity provisions in the state’s new legalization law.

“[We] want to make sure that communities of color will understand exactly what’s involved in applying for these licenses as soon as they’re available,” she told Cheddar.

The Roll-up #189: New York and New Mexico go legal

New York’s future with a new governor

As incoming governor, Hochul will of course have a statewide outlook. But she hails from Buffalo and has been an ally of Buffalo-area Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the powerful Albany legislator who led the fight to pass legalization with equity. That could prove to be an important personal connection in terms of keeping the state’s nascent cannabis industry, and the importance of equity, on the new governor’s agenda.

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And there’s this.

Gov. Cuomo never loved legalization—not personally and not professionally. He was pushed to embrace legalization, awkwardly, by the surprisingly successful primary run of Cynthia Nixon in 2018.

As with every issue, Cuomo backed legalization when it was convenient for him.

As New York’s new governor, Kathy Hochul now has the opportunity to embrace regulated adult-use cannabis as her issue and her own success. A briskly paced, smooth, and well-run rollout of New York State’s cannabis licensing program and store openings could be one of Gov. Hochul’s first great success stories.

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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