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New York’s Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Bill Is Dead

June 19, 2019
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
After a dramatic final week of New York’s legislative session during which cannabis advocates oscillated between optimism and defeat, the state’s adult-use cannabis bill is dead.

Despite a last-minute push to get the bill over the finish line, as well as a poll showing that the majority of New Yorkers support legalization, lawmakers could not agree on a handful of key components of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). The bill’s sponsors found themselves caught between a need to entice hesitant lawmakers, Governor Cuomo’s demands, and their own commitment to the bill’s progressive measures.

Even though MRTA is dead, lawmakers are still working to pass an expanded medical marijuana bill, as well as a watered-down decriminalization bill, before the legislative session ends later today.

“Through months of negotiation and conversation … we made great strides,” said State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), an original sponsor of the bill, in a statement. “We came very close to crossing the finish line, but we ran out of time.”


How the Cannabis Industry Defeated Legalization in New York

The Devil Was in the Details

One of the biggest sticking points in MRTA concerned the allocation of an anticipated $300 million in annual tax revenue. The bill’s sponsors intended to direct a fixed proportion of the funds toward communities most harmed by the war on drugs, while Cuomo, according to a recent report in The New York Times, wanted to put control of the funds in the hands of the executive branch.

“From the start of the legalization discussions, I’ve made it clear that community reinvestment is a top priority and more importantly, that funding for these communities need to be identified in statute,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a sponsor of MRTA, tweeted on Tuesday.

Lawmakers also struggled to reach consensus on whether counties would be expected to opt in to cannabis sales, or alternately be able to opt out.


New Report Says an Adult-Use Cannabis Industry Could Provide $4 Billion for New York State

Frustrations With the Democratic Supermajority

Legalization was initially expected to pass easily after Democrats retook control of all branches of the state government following the midterm elections. Yet many activists and lawmakers are now frustrated by Democrats’ inability to act on their progressive agenda.

“New York claims to be progressive and instead insists on keeping communities out of the mix of this,” said Mary Pryor, co-founder of the advocacy and cannabis culture organization Cannaclusive. “It’s a missed opportunity.”

Despite Governor Cuomo’s pledge earlier this year to pass legalization in the first 100 days of his new term, reports from Albany suggest that talks between the governor and Senate and Assembly leaders were few and far between since legislation failed to pass as part of the state budget in April.


Cannabis Out! New York Drops Legalization From Budget Bill

“The governor didn’t participate. I want to say he probably makes people think he was participating,” said Peoples-Stokes.

The Cuomo administration disagrees. “Talks on this issue with the governor’s office and the Legislature have been going on consistently for weeks. With all due respect to the Assembly Majority leader, I don’t know what she’s talking about,” said Richard Azzopardi, Senior Adviser to Cuomo.

Others put the blame at the feet of all legislative leaders. “Comprehensive reform would have been an enormous economic driver for struggling communities across the state. But in a moment when they had a clear avenue for building up marginalized communities, [legislators and the governor] chose not to act. It’s pathetic,” said Melissa Moore, New York’s Deputy State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.


When Will New York Legalize It? State Senator Diane Savino Explains

Lawmakers Patch Together a Backup Plan

Even though adult-use is off the table, legislators are hoping to push through an expansion to the state’s sparse medical marijuana program, as well as a decriminalization bill, before the session ends. To do so, they may need to extend the legislative session to Thursday or Friday.

The medical bill, sponsored by State Senator Diane Savino (D-Brooklyn and Staten Island) and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), would expand the number of dispensaries allowed in the state, legalize the sale of flower, eliminate the state’s list of qualifying conditions, and allow patients to possess a 60-day supply of cannabis at a time, as opposed to the current limit of 30 days.

Currently, the state has certified 100,000 patients. Florida, in comparison, has enrolled three times as many patients in roughly half the time.


New York Readies 3 Cannabis Bills if Adult-Use Fails

“We’re still at a point where patients are waiting too long, traveling too far, and paying too much. We need to fix that and we need to take away some of the barriers. … It’s medicine and we should treat it like medicine,” Savino said.

While neither the expanded medical bill nor a bill to regulate the state’s burgeoning hemp and CBD industries have run into much opposition, the decriminalization bill has already been panned by critics who say it won’t sufficiently address questions of racially-biased over-policing.

As Leafly reported yesterday, the bill fails to provide automatic expungement, and because it classifies public consumption as a misdemeanor, it would be unlikely to lead to much of a decrease in arrests. The Drug Policy Alliance describes New York as the “marijuana arrest capital of the world.”

For now, the fate of the trio of the bills remains to be seen. In the waning hours of the legislative session, however, anything could still happen. The only certainty is that cannabis advocates, who have fought tirelessly for legalization, aren’t going anywhere.


No matter how things shake out, we’re here to keep you posted. Check back with Leafly for updates on New York’s efforts to legalize cannabis—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Max Savage Levenson's Bio Image

Max Savage Levenson

Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.

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  • jontomas

    Once again, legalization gets stalled because of things that have nothing to do with marijuana. – Of course we should build up poor [Black] communities. – But we shouldn’t try to do it on the back of marijuana reform. – We have ENOUGH of a heavy lift without trying to assume that massive burden.

    This is just a move by Black leaders to try to insert their agenda and demands into marijuana reform. – We see what the disastrous results of that are.

    • dtschuck

      Why shouldn’t Black leaders try to get something for their communities. After all, whitey has used the War on Drugs to visit a War on Minority Communities. They deserve some consideration in a bill such as this that generates revenue.

      • Nyx

        Why do capitalize black and not white? So pathetic. Is it your white guilt, your invisible knapsack of whiteness??? Ha ha so pathetic. Just stop please.

    • terry208

      I agree Patriot.

  • dtschuck

    How very Trumpian of you.

  • dtschuck

    Still wearin’ that MAGA hat I see.

    • bps

      is that your defense of cuomo? this trash that doesn’t care what the people want unless he can siphon off money from a deal- you’re all class

  • Goddamn politicians.
    Well, Democraps. There’s your “diversity” in action. You can’t get on the same page about any damn thing except Queers, abortion or disarming Americans.

    And I’ll bet you’re all shocked when Trump wins another term.

  • Seth Tyrssen

    The majority of people support cannabis legalization. In “legal” states, they’ve made money hand over fist. Money is all that government really cares about. Therefore: if government refuses to recognize the will of the people, it’s time for a third American Revolution. Hang the lot, and start with a clean sheet of paper.

  • Linda Vee Sado

    The party of do nothing unless it’s for a non citizen

  • GoldyRocks

    I’m told that it didn’t come to the floor because one of the legislators is running in a primary in a District Attorney race and didn’t want it to impact the election.

  • Joey Vetrano

    Money money money…that’s the MAIN hold up here. Cuomo wants to retain power and money buys votes…he knows the only way to do that is to control where the money goes. In the meantime while this cock measuring contest continues here, we (the medical patients) have NO good choices to use our medicine and pay out the ass to get it at the dispensaries…$100 for a damn vape pen that should cost $35-50 TOPS!! And to boot…How the hell can they not have flower for us? Or edibles (not just a tincture)? Or having the right to grow our own (my personal choice)?!?! This is all being setup where theres NO small boutique cannabis farms…the costs for licenses is a f$ckin farce!!! It costs $20,000 for a non refundable application and $200,000 per year of cultivation?! Really?? Not to mention the number of licenses being given out.
    There are those of us who have bled and given up our freedom and our rights to support cannabis over the years are being COMPLETELY shut out. I really hate to say this but I’m half glad they screwed the pooch on this one cause they got a LONGGGG way to go in my eyes before they get this even CLOSE to being right.

    • Nyx

      Yup, I hope legalization on this track fails UTTERLY.

  • docwill

    All Cuomo wants is total control of $4B annually.

    Liberal-types never get how thoroughly corrupt are their state and national leaders. It’s all about power and money. They stoke grievance and intersectional divisions in their voting constituents who they view as useful idiots keeping them in power.

  • 360dunk

    “I’ve made it clear that community reinvestment is a top priority,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

    YOU made it clear? Who made YOU the one to dictate the terms that decide whether cannabis goes legal in one of the nation’s biggest states? You couldn’t find a way to compromise, Peoples-Stokes? Pathetic.

    • viper643

      That’s exactly correct. She held the bill hostage from the start. The whole idea that a certain race of people didn’t get arrested as much as another race is ludicrous. That other race of people simply were smart enough not to get caught. It would have passed in the April budget if Stokes/Peoples hadn’t been the fly in the ointment.

  • Pauley Wallnutz

    Cuhomo’s daze are numbered. First chance I get to vote this pig out, he’s gone!

  • GoldyRocks

    The votes were there. The Senate and Assembly leadership didn’t bring it to a vote because it would have been politically costly to a few freshmen Senators and other legislators looking to run for higher office. Political cowardice on the part of Democrats in New York.

  • Nyx

    So this discussion board is getting spammed by some antifemale freaks. NY sucks on every level, but it has nothing to do with abortion here.

    I don’t understand how all the money is getting shunted to black communities (read). Who says that is fair either? Moreover the costs of legalized weed are still ridiculous. The whole agenda sucks as far as I am concerned and I agree with Rick SImpson’s view: NO GOVT INTERFERENCE IN WEED, PERIOD. Legalizers are going down a very bad road where they are cutting the criminals in. WRONG MOVE. It should be legal to grow and consume and be treated as ANY OTHER BUSINESS. It is not a toxin like alcohol and should not be treated like that either, but as any other business, with restrictions only on child use as per all services and goods that require child restrictions.