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Push for legal marijuana is stalled in New York government

N.Y. recreational marijuana on hold

Time is ticking for New York's governor and state lawmakers as they continue to hash out a deal to fund the government for the coming fiscal year. As the Monday deadline approaches to approve the budget, the push for legalizing adult-use cannabis does not appear to have made the cut. 

The Albany Times-Union reported Thursday legalized marijuana appeared to be out of the budget. But at the start of the week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office told CBS New York's Marcia Kramer the governor was still "negotiating to legalize marijuana by the end of the legislative session in June." 

By Tuesday, Cuomo signaled he had fully moved on from including adult-use cannabis in his proposal when he told WNYC public radio he couldn't allot money from marijuana sales given the uncertainty coming from lawmakers on a deal being reached.

"The revenue wasn't counted." Cuomo said. "Not because in the delay in the revenue but because the legislative leaders said they were unsure that it would be done in the budget and therefore I can't count revenue on an item that we're not sure to include."

Democratic Assemblymember Tremaine Wright, chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, told CBSNews.com talks slowed more because lawmakers were taking on something complicated with multiple components. "Legalization of cannabis is a huge undertaking. Since there are a lot of parts, it may appear jaunting at times," she said.  

Wright disputed there was an attempt to block the proposal.  

"We are trying to move things forward," she said. "We are all striving to make sure this addresses the needs of the people which includes equity and making people whole when they have been harmed disproportionately. We have to make sure that there is economic opportunity for all New Yorkers."

Wright said that while momentum in Albany appears to have shifted, negotiations are still ongoing and nothing is off the table. 

"There is a possibility there will be something that addresses the legalization or the manner in which we manage cannabis in our state. So it is very possible that we do not have everything delineated regarding the management of cannabis but we are still talking about how we will get this in and how we will manage cannabis in the state."

But The New York Times reported on March 11 that black lawmakers had  moved to block the governor's proposal unless people of color are guaranteed a share of the potentially $3 billion dollar industry.

New York Times reporter Jeff Mays told CBSN's Elaine Quijano earlier this week that equity programs were a sticking point. "A lot of these black lawmakers, in addition to the social justice aspect, wanted to see economic justice as well. That meant giving people of color licenses to sell marijuana and making it easier for them to get into the industry."

At the beginning of the year, Cuomo outlined in his State of the State that a legal marketplace for adult-use cannabis could "stop the disproportionate criminal impact on communities of color."

According a report from the ACLU, between 2001 and 2010, "nationwide, black people are almost four times more likely than their white neighbors to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar rates of consumption across racial and ethnic groups." In 2018, a separate New York Times report found that across New York City,  "black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years."

The New York State Department of Health of Cuomo's estimated last year that a regulated cannabis program in New York would generate approximately $300 million in tax revenue and create jobs.

If legalization doesn't happen in the New York budget, it would have to be passed as a regular piece of legislation which could make things a lot tougher because it would have to be voted on and go through several legislative channels as opposed to a fast-paced compromise with an impending deadline.

"If you go past the budget, then there's no natural termination point," said Cuomo during his interview with WNYC's Brian Lehrer earlier this week.

Wright, still hopeful, doesn't believe the moment for New York has passed. When asked if she thought it could happen before the end of the session in June, Wright said, "I definitely do."

"I think that it is a priority for the community. There is a lot of interest in this and there is a lot of potential benefit. So it's a major priority for those who live in this state and the reform needs to be and remain a priority for those who represent this state." 

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