New York Lawmakers Push for Legalization Amid Pandemic

Written by Rita Thompson

 

Cannabis legalization in New York was pulled off the table last summer when lawmakers could not reach agreements in key details. 

Although democratic lawmakers reported extensive efforts to finalize negotiations, time simply ran out as more moderate lawmakers continued to disagree on regulations. 

In January, however, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised New Yorkers that legal cannabis would be coming real soon. According to Hudson Valley Post, Cuomo believes legalizing cannabis could bring $300 million in tax revenue to the state each year, and even more once the program is fully up and running. 

COVID-Induced Legalization

Now, as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the global economy, most businesses have either come to a standstill or faced huge losses. 

The cannabis industry, however, is seeing record sales as customers stock up amid the crisis. 

Steven DeAngelo, the co-founder of Harborside, told CNBC that he’s seen some of the highest sales in history. As of March 25th, sales at all of Harborside’s locations are up 20-25%, according to DeAngelo. 

As we noted in our recent piece on legal cannabis as an economic boost for our post-pandemic economy, New Frontier CEO, Giadh Aguirre De Carcer, predicts that the country could earn $105.6 billion in tax revenue by 2025, should cannabis become federally legal in the U.S.  

Thus, New York lawmakers are pushing to legalize even sooner to help deal with the economic effects of the pandemic. 

Disproportionate Effects on Minorities

This push for legalization is also motivated by the racial and class inequalities highlighted by COVID-19. 

As reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), current data suggests there is a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups. 

In fact, the CDC report found that in a population where 59% of residents are white, 18% are black, and 14% are Hispanic; approximately  45% of COVID-19 patients were white, 33% were black, and 8% were Hispanic. 

In a statement released on Thursday, New York democratic Senators Jamaal Bailey, Brad Holyman and Jessica Ramons told Gov. Andrew Cuomo, “We urgently need marijuana legalization […] rooted in racial and economic justice.” 

Sen. Liz Krueger, D-NY, further emphasized to Queen County Politics that cannabis enforcements have long targeted the same communities that are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. 

“Several people have been pointing out recently that the racial discrimination in marijuana arrests correlates with the disparate racial impact we are seeing with healthcare and police activity related to COVID-19 and social distancing enforcement,” Sen. Krueger explained to Queens County Politics. 

“They make a strong case that now is the time to fix our marijuana laws. My bill with Assemblywoman [Crystal] Peoples-Stokes is ready to move, and I would be happy to see it come to the floor as soon as possible,” she continued. 

Sen. Krueger’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act would create a regulated and taxed cannabis industry in New York and provide protection from discrimination against legal use of cannabis by adults aged 21 and older.

Virtual Legalization?

As lawmakers face a new normal of social distancing, however, legalization could prove difficult. 

As most industries have come to a standstill, lawmakers are looking at virtual options for discussing and making legalization decisions remotely through online platforms, like Zoom. 

Gov. Cuomo, however, considers cannabis too complex of a topic to discuss through a Zoom meeting, consequently advising against remote voting.  

“As far as getting into a very complex issue that requires real analysis and real data and trying to do that on Zoom conferences, I don’t know that that’s the best way to do it, but that’s up to them also,” explained Gov. Cuomo at a press conference last month.  

As of now, we don’t know if remote discussions will be possible. What we do know is that Gov. Cuomo vowed in his January State Address to legalize cannabis in New York States by the end of 2020. 

Circumstances have changed, but disproportionate effects have not. Who is the postponing of change really helping? 

Emerald contributor since June 2019

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