A push to legalize adult-use marijuana in New York has failed after state leaders did not reach a consensus on several key details in the final days of the legislative session.
Democratic state Sen. Liz Krueger, the lead sponsor of the main legalization bill in her chamber, confirmed June 19, 2019, that her legislation would not pass this year.
“Through months of negotiation and conversation … we made great strides,” she said in a statement. “We came very close to crossing the finish line, but we ran out of time.”
Despite broad support for legalization and polls showing its statewide popularity, lawmakers couldn’t agree on the many details of legalization, such as how tax revenue should be spent, whether past convictions should be expunged, and whether local communities could opt out of hosting dispensaries or instead would have to opt in.
For supporters who had hoped the fourth-most populous U.S. state would soon join the growing list of states where adult-use marijuana is legal, the failure of the bill was a significant disappointment. They’ll now turn their attention toward 2020, an election year, in which legalization may be an even tougher political challenge.
Melissa Moore, New York state deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a drug-law reform organization, said lawmakers squandered an opportunity and left a stream of new tax revenue and tens of thousands of new jobs on the table by not passing the proposal.
“As a whole, this could have been an enormous economic engine for the state,” she said. “Instead, what we have right now is continuation of the status quo.”
With lawmakers set to adjourn in mid-June 2019, some supporters hope there is time to pass a more modest bill to eliminate criminal penalties for possession of marijuana and create a process for people to clear their records of past pot convictions.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who proposed his own legalization legislation back in January 2019, said he would support further decriminalization. Under current law, those caught with small amounts of marijuana are subject to fines, and not misdemeanor charges. But police can still arrest people for smoking pot in public, a wrinkle legalization advocates say is too often used to target young racial minorities.
“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long and it has to end,” Cuomo said in a statement on June 19, 2019. “The time to act is now.”
The so-called “Plan B” bill would also expand access to the state’s medical marijuana program and seek to boost the state’s hemp industry.
Illinois is poised to become the 11th state to legalize adult-use marijuana after lawmakers in that state approved legalization legislation in late May 2019. Two of New York’s neighbors, Massachusetts and Vermont, have already taken the step.
Cuomo included his legalization proposal in his state budget recommendation but pulled the measure after lawmakers couldn’t reach consensus.
He warned at the time that the decision to consider marijuana legalization on its own would make it harder to pass. The effort lost further momentum when lawmakers in next-door New Jersey failed to pass their own legalization efforts.
Dozens of demonstrators rallied at the New York Capitol in Albany on June 19, highlighting the marijuana legislation and other proposals they said were not properly prioritized.
Demonstrator Pilar DeJesus expressed sharp frustration that Democrats could not pass marijuana legalization and said marijuana has been used to criminalize people of color for decades.
“We need to stop ruining lives with prohibition,” she said.
— David Klepper and Ryan Tarinelli
Feature image: Pro-legalization demonstrators standing outside of the Capitol in Albany urge the New York Senate to approve marijuana reforms. Legalization efforts, while having the support of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and key Democratic leaders, did not have enough backers to advance in the 2019 session. (The Associated Press/Hans Pennink)