New York lawmakers fail to pass bill on pot legalization

In recent cannabis news, recreational pot legalization efforts have failed in New York as lawmakers reject the bill.

Pro-legalization advocates in the Empire State hoped New York would fully end its prohibition on cannabis to join Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington in offering full legalization .

According to a Sienna College statewide poll, 55 percent of New Yorkers support marijuana legalization. New Yorkers are reportedly going as far as nearby Massachusetts to purchase cannabis from the state’s legal dispensaries. Advocates say the state could benefit economically to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in current lost revenue.

Cannabis decriminalization was being seriously looked at as a backup plan as Albany’s legislative session came to a close for the year.

Up in smoke

Named The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, passage of the bill would have established “a regulated and taxed marijuana industry in New York,” and provided “for various social and economic justice initiatives related thereto.”

The bill would have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults over the age of 21.

While the bill had 13 co-sponsors, it wasn’t enough.

“We came very close to crossing the finish line, but we ran out of time,” said New York State Senator Liz Krueger, the bill’s sponsor. The New York Farm Bureau, an advocacy group for New York’s agricultural industry, declared its support for the effort in a memo.

“Given the current status of the farm economy in New York state, farmers recognize the potential opportunity the cultivation of cannabis could be for New York State’s agriculture industry,” said the group .

“I will continue to push for a tax-and-regulate adult-use program with all the right safeguards in place, one that centers on restorative justice and reinvestment in the communities most harmed by decades of failed prohibition policies,” said Krueger.

Looking at the successes of states where marijuana is legal, Krueger said that she and her allies would continue their efforts towards success.

“I have no doubt that prohibition is an outdated and irrational policy, and its days are numbered,” said Krueger.

A joint effort

According to a report by The Buffalo News , many are blaming the bill’s failure to pass on lawmakers representing downstate areas such as Queens and Nassau County.

State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky said that her district in Queens was more than 80 percent Asian American. “They are unalterably opposed not only to the legalization of marijuana but also to the medical use of marijuana,” said Stavisky.

Stavisky added that her Asian American constituents have even demonstrated outside one of the medical marijuana dispensaries in her district.

Law enforcement, PTAs, and schools were all opposed to the bill, according to State Senator John Brooks, who represents Nassau County.

His criticism came from the bill’s alleged lack of funding for police training, as well as claims of increased car accidents and high school dropout rates in states where marijuana is legal.

A five-year study conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Safety disputes this, however, stating that not only has marijuana not impacted graduation and dropout rates but that graduation rates have increased since 2012 while dropout rates have subsequently decreased. Impaired driving statistics also showed declines.

Efforts to decriminalize cannabis for the state kicked into high gear after the bill’s failure on Wednesday. Multiple bills concerning state marijuana laws were already in play.

In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo had called for broad reform of the state’s marijuana laws.

“I understand the desire to end session today as planned and will give the legislature a message of necessity to expedite passage if required,” said Cuomo on Wednesday . “This legislative proposal is not new. I first proposed this decriminalization measure in 2013, and again in this year’s budget. The time to act is now.”

The Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization advocacy group, said in a statement released on Wednesday that Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie had ‘squandered’ a ‘historic social justice moment’ in failing to pass cannabis legalization in the state.

“The inability of the state legislature and Governor Cuomo to pass comprehensive marijuana legalization means that Black and Latin individuals remain disproportionately in the crosshairs of harmful marijuana enforcement,” said the organization.

Criticizing the decriminalization fall-back plan as insufficient, the group said it would just give law enforcement “discretion” on how to interpret the law.

“Actually addressing the legacy of harm from prohibition and targeted enforcement by comprehensively legalizing and reinvesting in communities is what policymakers need to deliver on,” said the group.

A national and international hit

Christelle Gedeon, chief legal officer of Aphria, Inc., an Ontario-based cannabis firm, said of the state of Canada post-legalization, “Crime hasn’t gone up, and the sky isn’t falling. I call that progress.”

Gedeon’s remarks were made at this year’s ideacity conference in Canada. Canada fully legalized cannabis in 2018.

At the U.S. federal level, the House of Representatives voted on June 20 to block the Justice Department from interfering with state, territory, and Indian tribe marijuana laws.

The measure, which protects state legalization of recreational use, comes as part of a long-standing debate in Congress that has gained traction in recent years as cannabis’ medical and economic benefits become more apparent, further garnering public support.

Michael Collins, director of national affairs for Drug Policy Alliance, applauded the vote , stating it signaled that the end of marijuana prohibition “has never been closer.”

“When Drug Policy Alliance and a small band of allies first worked on this amendment in 2015, we were told that we didn’t stand a chance. But we convinced members this was the right thing to do, and four years on, victory is sweet,” said Collins.

“Now is the time for Democrats to pivot to passing legislation that will end prohibition through a racial justice lens, making sure that the communities most impacted by our racist marijuana laws have a stake in the future of legalization. To do anything less would be to repeat an injustice,” said Collins.

Members of Congress are also looking at reforming banking regulations to allow cannabis businesses to legally participate in the financial system.

The SAFE Banking Act, for example, aims to “create protections for depository institutions that provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers for such businesses, and for other purposes.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) tweeted about the safety concerns cannabis entrepreneurs experience by being unable to legally participate in the banking system, stating the dangers of walking around “with duffel bags full of cash.”

“The SAFE Banking Act is a common-sense bill that will allow the marijuana industry to use banks. The Federal gov’t must recognize legitimate businesses,” tweeted Dingell.

The bill, which was introduced in March, reportedly has a 37 percent chance of being enacted, according to Skopos Labs.

“Marijuana legalization is a racial justice issue and all low-level offenses should be expunged,” tweeted Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). “As the $1 billion in state revenue in Colorado shows, it’s also about creating jobs and economic growth.”

While Cuomo was blasted for failing to deliver on significant criminal justice reform, he reiterated his commitment to an end to prohibition.

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long and it has to end,” said Cuomo.

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