Cuomo says conditions ‘ripe’ in New York for marijuana sale legalization in 2021

FILE PHOTO: Chemdawg marijuana plants grow at a facility
FILE PHOTO: Chemdawg marijuana plants grow at a facility in Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada October 29, 2019.
REUTERS/Blair Gable/File Photo

Cash-strapped New York state is “ripe” for the picking when it comes to legalizing marijuana for public sale and distribution, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Thursday morning.

During an interview with WAMC radio’s Alan Chartock, Cuomo was asked about New Jersey’s successful Election Day referendum permitting the sale and recreational use of cannabis — the third state adjacent to New York to do so.

In recent years, New York approved the medicinal use of marijuana and decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis as part of criminal justice reform efforts. But with New York now facing an unprecedented budget deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo suggested that the time might now be right for the Empire State to give recreational marijuana the green light.

“The question becomes about the money and the distribution and the power,” Cuomo told Chartock. “I think this year (2021) it is ripe, because the state is going to be desperate for funding, even with [the possible election of Joe] Biden [as president], even with a stimulus. We’re still going to need funding, and it’s also the right policy. So I think we get there this year.”

Cuomo claimed that he has supported the full legalization of marijuana in New York “for years,” and conceded that New Jersey found “the faster way” toward legalization through a ballot referendum. He did not state whether New York would go the same route in posing a public question on whether to legalize cannabis.

Along with New Jersey voters, the electorate in Arizona, South Dakota and Montana also approved marijuana legalization referendums on Election Day — joining 11 other states in the Union that have previously legalized recreational cannabis.

The governor said that “the pressure is going to be on” lawmakers in Albany to make marijuana legal, and reap the financial benefits of it through state taxes and license fees. It’s estimated in reports that New York state government could receive at least $300 million annually in new tax revenue through legalization.

“[W]e’re going to need the money so badly,” Cuomo added. “And you have such a gap now that I think it’s going to be an easier conversation.”

Cuomo’s statement is in line with remarks made in October by Abel Bernabe, an adviser to Cuomo, who indicated that the governor would introduce a legalization bill in January as part of his executive budget. A similar bill was introduced earlier this year, but ultimately failed to be part of the final spending plan for 2020-21.

During his Nov. 5 radio interview, Cuomo was also optimistic about the prospect of a Biden presidency; the former vice president continues to lead the electoral vote count over President Trump as swing state vote counting continues. Cuomo laughed off Trump’s threats to use federal courts in an effort to impede the vote count.

“No, [Biden’s] not losing, and he’s going to win, and that is such great news,” the governor said. “It’s not going to be today or tomorrow. They’re going to have stupid lawsuits. He’s going to win, thank God. He is going to unify this country and get it back to where it was.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo and Trump have publicly warred over the response to the outbreak, and Trump and Senate Republicans’ continued refusal to provide additional economic stimulus during the economic crisis.