On Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his plan to legalize and regulate adult marijuana use by establishing a working group of 20 experts in the fields of public health, safety and economics to draft a bill over the next five months, to be presented to the state legislature when it reconvenes in January.
“As we work to implement the report’s recommendations through legislation, we must thoroughly consider all aspects of a regulated marijuana program, including its impact on public health, criminal justice and State revenue, and mitigate any potential risks associated with it,” Cuomo said in a statement.
State legislature will need to approve the bill before Cuomo can sign it into law, but if successful, New York would be the 10th state to legalize recreational cannabis. In five months, of course, Cuomo might not be New York’s governor, if challenger Cynthia Nixon has her way. Nixon threw her hat into the ring in March, and her progressive stance on marijuana legalization was highlighted as a defining difference from the longtime establishment Democrat. Initially considered a longshot, the former Sex and the City star and longtime activist has seen a surge of support over the last few months, especially after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist who ran a grassroots campaign and has endorsed Nixon, declared victory over a longtime state senator in the Democratic primary.
Whether Nixon wins or loses in November, her campaign has seemingly forced Cuomo further to the left on certain issues, including marijuana legalization. Cuomo has been more reticent than many in the Democratic party to embrace the pro-weed wave. He was opposed to even medical marijuana up until 2014, and would not approve a bill which broadened access for patients who need it until stricter restrictions were added.
Cuomo remained staunchly opposed to legalizing or even decriminalizing marijuana as recently as last year, when he called it a “gateway drug.” But support for legalization has only grown nationwide, and so has pressure on Cuomo to evolve his position. In January, Cuomo launched a study led by the New York Department of Health about the plausibility of such legislation in New York by examining the impact of legalization in Massachusetts and Vermont. Originally expected to be completed by fall, the 75-page report was released in April, and, lo and behold, it validated what marijuana advocates have been saying for years: that the benefits of legalized, regulated marijuana vastly outweigh the costs.
“The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in N.Y.S. outweigh the potential negative impacts,” the report concluded. “Areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations. … No insurmountable obstacles to regulation of marijuana were raised.”