NY pot bill comes back from the dead


Up until late last week, it looked like recreational marijuana legalization in the New York legislature was dead, dead, dead for the session. Now it looks like there may be a resurrection underway.

Late last week, members of the legislature and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo started meeting to see if they could resolve lingering differences and cobble together a bill with enough support to pass before the legislature adjourns, which it’s supposed to do June 19.

By last weekend, Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment was reporting they had made enough progress that they might be able to get a bill to the floors of both chambers before adjournment. Then on Tuesday, June 18, a New York CBS station reported progress had stalled and lawmakers were focusing on a bill to expunge the minor pot convictions of 600,000 New Yorkers instead of full-on legalization.

Then, late Tuesday, Jaeger reported that a newly revised legalization bill was being circulated among lawmakers. He said several media sources had indicated that leadership of both the State Senate and Assembly were in agreement about the revised version, but that it was uncertain if supporters in the Senate had the 32 votes they needed to pass the bill.

“Insiders say that a vote on the new legalization bill may be scheduled for Friday (June 21) – two days after the legislative session was initially set to end,” according to Jaeger. (Apparently the decision on extending the legislative session to consider the bill is the call of the legislature’s leadership.)

A major issue the lawmakers are trying to resolve is how marijuana tax revenues should be allocated. Cuomo’s initial position has been that they should all go to the state’s general fund. Some legislators representing black and Hispanic districts want at least some of the money to go into “community reinvestment” on grounds that their communities have been disproportionately hurt by marijuana prohibition.

Democratic Representative Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the Assembly majority leader and the sponsor of the Assembly’s version of the legalization bill, said directing marijuana tax revenue to communities harmed by the war on drugs is “a line in the sand” for her.

“If we can’t get to that, I’m not willing to open a market that will garner tons of people multiple billions of dollars if we can’t have a commitment to invest in the communities that have been harmed,” she told Jaeger.

Besides the debate over tax revenue, legislators are arguing over whether the local control provisions of the bill should be written in a way that requires communities to “opt in” to recreational pot dispensaries if they want to allow them, or “opt out” if they want to prohibit them.

According to The Buffalo News, a provision allowing home cultivation for personal use that appeared in earlier versions of the legalization bill may be axed in the latest version.

We should know how it all plays out by the weekend.

 According to a statewide poll taken a couple of weeks ago, New York voters strongly support legalizing recreational marijuana.

The poll found legalization favored by a 55 to 40 percent margin. Predictably, support among voters under the age of 35 was overwhelming — 75 percent wanted to see pot legal — while 54 percent of voters 55 and older were opposed. Seventy-seven percent of liberals favored legalization; 53 percent of Republicans were opposed.

Those results are consistent with dozens of national and state polls taken over the past several years.

However, one result was somewhat surprising. Support for legalization was stronger in upstate New York and in the suburbs than in the state’s cities. Fifty-nine percent of upstate voters favored legalization, as did 55 percent of suburban voters. Only 52 percent of voters living in cities did.

Upstate New York is historically more conservative and Republican than New York City, so the finding that it was more willing to back recreational pot than urbanites is counter-intuitive.

The fact that recreational marijuana is readily available in neighboring Canada and tax dollars will be flowing northward if New York doesn’t legalize may partially explain the finding.

The statewide poll, which was conducted by Siena College, surveyed 812 registered voters from June 2-6. Its margin of sampling error was 4.1 percentage points.