BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Three of New York's border states have legalized adult recreational marijuana use.
Voters in New Jersey approved a ballot measure legalizing marijuana. Legalization advocates say the Garden State's move puts greater pressure on the Empire State to legalize than when Vermont and Massachusetts approved recreational use.
"At this point, New York is almost surrounded by states that have legal access," said Melissa Moore, Drug Policy Alliance's NYS Director. "So I think where as before it was sort of pockets around us, now we're seeing it's really at this tipping point where we're nearly surrounded."
Last September, Governor Andrew Cuomo said it does not make sense for neighboring states to have different marijuana policies because people will go to those states to purchase.
On Wednesday, State Senator Tim Kennedy said legalization is a legislative priority (D-Buffalo) and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said the issue will be on the table as soon as the legislative process starts.
“Quite frankly, the fact that we are being cut out of the conversation around us, when other states are legalizing recreational marijuana, and New York State is falling behind,” he said.
Governor Cuomo's office estimates legalization could generate $300 million in yearly revenue. The state currently faces an approximately $14 billion budget deficit.
Hochul said legislators are still looking at where the revenue generated from legalization would go, considerations include filling in part of the budget gap and funding historically disadvantage communities disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests.
Legalization has been discussed in New York for the past few years. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act was not voted on last session. Additionally, it was not included in the state's FY 2021 budget passed in April. Kennedy said it was not part of the budget due to coronavirus.
“We went back to the basics, we cut out any additions, and we saved the deliberation for issues like the legalization of recreational marijuana for another day,” Kennedy said.
In a statement to 7 Eyewitness News, NYS Assembly Majority Leader Crystal People-Stokes said she's hopeful legislation will pass.
"I am still hopeful we can pass this legislation. The governor has already indicated it will be in his budget. Given the state's financial issues before and now since the pandemic, all revenue options are on the table.MRTA(a1617c) has the potential to be a huge revenue generator for the state, I want to make sure part of those revenues are reinvested in communities that have been negatively impacted by the so-called war on drugs."
In his 2020 State of the State address, Cuomo said "Let's legalize adult use of marijuana." Nearly identical words are written in his 2019 State of the State book, "We must also end the needless and unjust criminal convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma and let's legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all."
New York decriminalized marijuana in 2019.