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Marijuana Legalization Likely Out of State Budget, Sponsor Says

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State Senator Liz Krueger
State Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan
Credit: Dan Clark

The legalization of marijuana for recreational use in New York is likely off the table in the state budget, which is due in two weeks, because of complications in negotiations spurred by novel coronavirus, State Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, said Wednesday.

Krueger, the lead sponsor of legislation that would legalize the drug, said she didn’t believe lawmakers could negotiate a deal on marijuana legalization by the April 1 deadline.

“I don’t believe marijuana is going to be negotiated in this budget in the next few days,” Krueger said. “I just don’t see it as realistic.”

Krueger, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, also said she didn't know if it would be possible for lawmakers to agree on a state budget by the end of the week, which was rumored to be the plan earlier this week. The Finance Committee negotiates the budget.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said later Wednesday that he couldn’t say, as of now, whether marijuana legalization would still be in the budget. That will depend on a number of factors, Heastie said.

“I can't tell you necessarily what's in, what's out. I think we're all kind of looking at numbers,” Heastie said. “You know, what is the [Medicaid Redesign Team] going to come back with? I think that's kind of where we are. So I can't tell you what's in or out at this point.”

Marijuana is an issue that’s complicated the state budget, both this year, and last year. It failed to pass last year for a myriad of reasons, not least of which is a difference in opinion over how the tax revenue from marijuana sales should be spent.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the state should have more flexibility with how that money is spent, while some Democrats in the Legislature want a dedicated fund to help communities that have been impacted by the state’s drug laws.

Krueger had recently filed an amended version of her marijuana legalization bill, but it was unlikely that the legislation would pass without amendments.

Lawmakers negotiate big-ticket items, like marijuana legalization behind closed doors with staff from Cuomo’s office to come to a three-way agreement. That means the bill would change before it comes up for a vote in either the Senate or Assembly.

Cuomo, for his part, said last week that he still wants to see controversial items included in the state budget, so long as they’ve been thought through. He’s pushed for changes to the state’s new laws on bail reform, a legalization of gestational surrogacy, and other measures.

He’s also been supportive of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but has said it likely won’t happen if it’s not done by the end of March.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that’s advocated against legalization in New York and other states, welcomed the news Wednesday that the issue likely wouldn’t be considered as part of the state budget.

“Lawmakers in Albany have responded swiftly to the ongoing issue related to the COVID-19 outbreak and it seems as if they have wisely chosen to focus on the betterment of New Yorkers and the protection of public health and safety,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of SAM.

“As we have said previously, the consideration of marijuana legalization and commercialization during this outbreak is unconscionable and extremely shortsighted,” he continued.