On January 15, 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2019 State of the State Address. Part of his address centered on the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York State.
The Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act was introduced as part of the Governor’s Executive Budget, which is expected to be acted upon by April 1st. If it is approved, New York will join ten other states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – and Washington D.C., in adopting laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
As you may recall from one of our previous posts, as part of his 2018 State of the State Address Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Health (“DOH”) to conduct a study to determine the potential impact of a recreational marijuana program in New York State.
The Report from the DOH, issued in July 2018, concluded that the positive impacts of a regulated marijuana program in New York State outweigh the potential negative aspects. The Report stated that the regulation of marijuana benefits public health by enabling government oversight of the production, testing, labeling, distribution, and sale of marijuana. The Report further found that the creation of a regulated marijuana program would enable New York State to control licensing, ensure quality control and consumer protection, and set age and quantity restrictions.
Details of the program are still being developed, but the Governor’s proposed bill would create a new Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) which would administer all licensing, production, and distribution of cannabis products in the adult-use, industrial and medical marijuana markets. Governor Cuomo predicts that a recreational marijuana program in New York State will generate approximately $300 million in tax revenue and create jobs. That number could vary slightly, however, as the program would allow counties, as well as cities with a population of more than 100,000, to affirmatively opt out of the program and pass laws blocking one or more types of allowed marijuana operations.
During his 2019 State of the State Address Governor Cuomo also emphasized that the any implementation of a regulated marijuana program will also provide for the implementation of quality control and consumer protections to safeguard public health. His proposal would also automatically seal criminal records for marijuana offenses that are no longer crimes.
As with the other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, recreational marijuana use in New York State will be restricted to adults over the age of 21.
While there is growing support for a recreational marijuana program in New York, not everyone is optimistic that the Legislature will vote to legalize recreational marijuana as part of the state budget, which is due on April 1. At an event on January 31, 2019, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie indicated that six weeks may not provide enough time to parse out the terms of such a complicated issue. He later tweeted: “Being honest and saying six weeks may not be enough time to come up with regulations, deal with economic impact on communities and the criminal justice aspects, somehow gets reactions of outrage instead of understanding and acknowledgment of the commitment to get this done…And done right.”
In response, Governor Cuomo said on February 1st during an interview with WCNY radio that he remains confident the Legislature can vote to legalize recreational marijuana as part of the state budget. “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.”