New York counties push for cannabis legalization to recover from financial impacts of COVID

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A coalition of county officials are recommending New York cannabis legalization as a means of reversing the economic glut that has occurred as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Adult-use cannabis legalization “will provide the state and counties with resources for public health education and technical assistance,” according to a New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) report outlining budget gaps.

“Counties should be allowed to apply their local sales tax rate on these transactions. In addition, the cannabis cultivation tax should be shared with the county in which the product is grown,” the report continued.

The state Division of Budget received in excess of 80 proposed policy amendments focused on strengthening local economies across the Empire State. 

“When COVID-19 arrived in our communities, counties mobilized and led the response efforts that were essential to stopping the spread of the virus,” said NYSAC President John Marren, who also assumes the role of chairman for the Ontario County Board of Supervisors.

“Now, as the economic aftershocks from the pandemic rock our local economies and the federal government stands idly by, counties are once again mobilizing to provide creative solutions that will place local governments on improved fiscal footing and protect essential services.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo fought for New York cannabis legalization in previous budget proposals 

Not only have lawmakers’ recent New York cannabis legalization motives been triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic but also, because of the recent surge of black Americans being killed by police. While a decision has not yet been made, things are headed in the right direction, what with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) having focused on adult-use cannabis legalization in his last two budget proposals.

Back in May, Gov. Cuomo responded to questions about the likelihood of him enacting cannabis policy change across New York counties. However, he claims that in spite of him working hard to get the law passed, the issue is complicated and must be dealt with “in a comprehensive way.”

Cuomo and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) shared a similar opinion about the prospect of New York cannabis legalization amid COVID-19. Peoples-Stokes, who was optimistic that legalization would be accomplished this year, has succumbed to the realization that the virus outbreak makes the process difficult. 

Cuomo also acknowledged coronavirus-related obstacles, with the Governor staying in April that he believed the legislative session was “effectively over”. He also dismissed the idea of cannabis reform being voted on remotely as a means of abiding by social distancing measures with video conferencing.

State Senate recently approved numerous bills for cannabis reform in New York

Over the past few months, a handful of cannabis reform bills have been approved by the New York state senate. For example, in July, a bill was passed by the chamber to expand eligibility for automatic low-level cannabis conviction expungements. 

During the same month, a local law was finalized that prohibited employers from conducting pre-employment drug testing in New York City. Shortly before this, the Senate voted to stop tenants from facing evictions if they use medical cannabis.

In regards to the most recent push for adult-use cannabis legalization, Albany County executive Dan McCoy claims that the report will inform state officials that “we’re ready, willing and able to be constructive partners in the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”