Crains NY reports that within the first two weeks of 2018, the state’s medical marijuana industry went from panicking over an existential threat from the federal government to contemplating what full legalization would look like during a state Assembly hearing.
Then on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo softened his longtime stance against recreational marijuana and included funds to study the economic and social impact of legalization in the executive budget. The sequence of events that led to that move brought New York closer than ever to taxing and regulating marijuana as it does alcohol.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Jan. 4 rescinded an Obama-era policy that offered reassurance to states with legal cannabis that most marijuana offenses would not be prosecuted. Sessions’ memo prompted an immediate backlash, with frustrated state lawmakers, advocates and entrepreneurs urging Congress to pass federal legislation ending marijuana’s legal limbo. New York’s Medical Cannabis Industry Association, like Cuomo, has never explicitly endorsed full legalization. However, the group noted on the day of the Assembly hearing, “The reality is, New York is surrounded by states with recreational marijuana policies.”
By the time the Assembly discussed legalizing marijuana the week after Sessions’ memo, Vermont lawmakers had passed a legalization bill, and a similar measure was approved by New Hampshire’s House of Representatives. Those states and New Jersey, whose new governor favors legalization, are poised to join Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., as East Coast vanguards of legal pot.
Advocates were still skeptical that Cuomo would come around. But then Joel Giambra, a Republican who plans to run for governor, noted that tax revenue from legal marijuana could help fund the subways. There’s little question momentum is building. As one Twitter user put it, “Cuomo has correctly read the tea leaves.”
Editor’s note: We think he may have read the writing on some other kind of leaves.