Gov. Andrew Cuomo renews pledge to legalize recreational cannabis in New York


Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On January 6, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo declared his plans to legalize recreational cannabis in New York as part of the 2021 State of the State. Based on Cuomo’s proposal, a comprehensive system would be developed to ensure that the market receives the necessary oversight and regulation it needs to thrive.

This fresh push for cannabis legalization in New York emerges during a time of economic crisis. Since the coronavirus pandemic erupted in early 2020, the northeastern U.S. state has suffered a devastating blow to its finances. The city has not endured such harsh economic challenges since the 1970s.

“Despite the many challenges New York has faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also created a number of opportunities to correct long-standing wrongs and build New York back better than ever before,” said Gov. Cuomo, adding that, “not only will legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provide the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also allows us to directly support the individuals and communities that have been most harmed by decades of cannabis prohibition.”

An overview of Governor’s proposal for cannabis legalization in New York 

The Governor of New York’s legal cannabis initiative builds on existing foundations. For example, Cuomo directed the State Department of Health to carry out a multi-agency study in 2018 that spotlighted the benefits of adult-use legalization. What the team discovered was that cannabis prohibition has negatively impacted public health and safety. They concluded that legalization harbors the potential to prevent instances of cannabis-related offenses, convictions and arrests in communities of color.

Conversely, back in 2019, Gov. Cuomo signed legislation into effect that would expunge certain cannabis records and decriminalize penalties for unlawful cannabis possession. Moving forwards, the latest proposal encourages responsible use of the plant, and implements a variety of quality and safety controls; inclusive of strict cannabis testing, labeling, advertising and packaging policies.

Under the fresh proposal, a newly-established Office of Cannabis Management would provide regulatory oversight for the market; in addition to the existing medical and cannabinoid hemp program. What’s more, equal licensing opportunities would be made available to entrepreneurs residing in communities worst-impacted by the failed war on drugs.

New York’s adult-use market could be the biggest on East Coast

A previous report by Marijuana Business Daily analysts highlighted how a prospective adult-use cannabis market in New York could evolve into the largest on the East Coast. Analysts predict that a legal market could be capable of generating $2.3 billion annually by its fourth year. Aside from the economic boost that legal weed could offer New York, legalization is also sure to create thousands of new jobs.

“I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been of adult-use legalization in New York,” said Jeremy Unruh, who assumes the role of senior vice president of public and regulatory affairs for Illinois-based PharmaCann. His company is one of 10 in possession of a vertical medical cannabis license in New York. 

“The governor’s messaging seems to be fairly resolute, and we know there’s an appetite in the legislature. As always, the devil is in the details,” he added.

It’s understandable why Unruh and many other industry players are feeling hopeful. On November’s Election Day, when New Jersey succeeded in passing a recreational cannabis legalization initiative, New York state regulators immediately felt pressured to enact an adult-use market.

Moreover, New York’s annual budget deficit currently rests at around $15 billion a figure that could be shrunk if legal sales commence. Once legalization is fully implemented in New York, it is forecast to attract annual tax revenue to the amount of $300 million.