Assembly Leader: No Deal on Marijuana Without Revenue Stream for Impacted Communities
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Assebly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes speaking with Karen DeWitt
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo
Credit: Chris Nichols

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the main sponsor of a bill to legalize marijuana in New York, says she wouldn't support a compromise on the issue that leaves out a dedicated funding stream for communities adversely impacted by the state’s drug laws.

Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said in an interview to air on New York NOW this weekend that removing that part of the bill would be a deal-breaker for her.

“For me, that’s the reason why I support it. That’s the reason I’d like to see it happen,” Peoples-Stokes said. “If it doesn’t have that component, I can’t be supportive of it.”

That’s one of the main sticking points in the debate between Democrats over how marijuana should be legalized in New York state. Democrats are divided on how the tax revenue from marijuana sales would be used if the drug was legalized in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he also wants to reinvest revenue from marijuana sales back into communities where the state’s drug laws have had a significant impact on families and the economy. But his proposal wouldn’t create a dedicated fund for that purpose.

Cuomo, rather, would like to see revenue from marijuana sales collected by the state and distributed on a case-by-case basis. That would likely include funding for communities, but that choice would ultimately be up to the state under Cuomo’s plan.

Peoples-Stokes said that, at the end of the day, she would expect Cuomo to make a significant investment in communities adversely impacted by the state’s drug laws. But that could be different under a future governor, she said.

“I’ve been talking with him about this for a while,” Peoples-Stokes said. “Because I know Gov. Cuomo, I believe he will do what’s right. But I don’t know who the next governor may be. He, or she, may decide something different.”

“We should take care of it in statute because we know it’s the right thing to do,” she continued.

Lawmakers have four weeks to agree on a final bill to legalize marijuana if they want to do it as part of this year’s state budget. The spending plan is due at the end of March.

Cuomo has predicted that legalization won’t happen this year if it’s not included as part of the state budget. He said the same thing last year — and he was right. Democrats couldn’t agree on a bill to legalize the drug during the second half of last year’s session.

At the same time, Cuomo has said he’s planning to take a trip to a handful of other states at some point over the next month to see how they legalized the drug, and what problems they ran into after the fact. Timing on that trip hasn’t been announced.

Peoples-Stokes said she wasn’t invited along for the ride, but Cuomo said Friday he planned to invite Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Peoples-Stokes said she’s “glad” Cuomo’s going on the tour.

“I’m glad he’s doing that,” Peoples-Stokes said. “In fact I think it will be very informative for him because what he’ll see is that we in New York have an opportunity to not only say we’re the most progressive state — we can take action.”

Members of law enforcement have been resistant toward efforts to legalize marijuana, saying there’s no mainstream way to test for the drug. That could be a problem for officers who suspect someone of driving while intoxicated.

Peoples-Stokes, and other Democrats, have said they plan to address those concerns as part of a final deal on marijuana. That’s something they’ll have to work out over the next month.

Cuomo will meet with Heastie and Stewart-Cousins over the next four weeks to negotiate a final state budget, which is due at midnight on April 1.