Calling It Overdue, New York Governor Pushes to Legalize Pot

A bud tender shows a top cannabis strain at a dispensary in Portland, Ore., in 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

BROOKLYN (CN) — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to legalize recreational cannabis this year, giving a preview to his upcoming State of the State address. 

“I think this should have been passed years ago,” Cuomo said during live remarks at his Covid-19 status update on Wednesday.

“Too many people have been imprisoned, and incarcerated, and punished — too many of those people are Black, Latino and poor,” he added. “It’s exaggerated the injustice of the justice system.” 

Cuomo proposed creating a new regulatory Office of Cannabis Management to oversee both recreational and medical cannabis use. 

In a press release, the governor’s office said it plans to create “an equitable structure for the adult-use market” by “offering licensing opportunities and assistance to entrepreneurs in communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.” 

The marijuana legalization rollout could yield around $300 million per year for New York, state officials say, though that money won’t be seen for a few years as the program is fleshed out. 

Cuomo said Wednesday that he had supported legalizing marijuana for years. But the governor still opposed it in 2017, saying he believes pot is a gateway drug and that “as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana.”  

By the end of 2018, Cuomo had changed his position, advocating for legalization to reform laws, “once and for all,” that disproportionately target Black and minority communities. 

Cuomo decriminalized penalties for marijuana possession in 2019. He said Wednesday that this year is set to “give us the momentum to get it over the goal line.” 

Keeping on the topic of sports, Cuomo also outlined a plan to bring mobile sports betting to New York state. 

Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski makes a sports bet at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City, N.J. in 2019. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

“We want to do sports betting the way the state runs the lottery,” Cuomo said, meaning the state will receive revenue, rather than letting casinos run gambling, as is the case in other states. 

Robert Mujica, director of the state budget, said the narrative that New York has lost billions of dollars to states like New Jersey, which legalized sports gambling in 2018, is not quite true. 

“The billions of dollars that are being wagered, and the moneys that are being made are not being made by the taxing jurisdictions,” Mujica said, noting that New Jersey had made less than $80 million over the past three years. 

Even so, 20% of New Jersey’s sports betting market comes from New Yorkers, the governor’s office reported. 

By starting its own market under a lotto-like tax structure, New York can increase its sports betting profits tenfold, Mujica said.

“Otherwise, for the bettors,” he added, “it’s seamless and it’s exactly the same.” 

Under the program, platforms would need to send proposals to the state’s gaming commission before they can offer mobile sports betting. They will also have to partner with an existing licensed casino. 

The gaming commission will require any mobile app for betting to include “safeguards against abuses and addiction,” according to a press release. 

Cuomo said in the statement that online sports betting may help pull New York out of a “historic budget deficit” brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“New York has the potential to be the largest sports wagering market in the United States, and by legalizing online sports betting we aim to keep millions of dollars in revenue here at home, which will only strengthen our ability to rebuild from the Covid-19 crisis,” Cuomo said.  

New Jersey getting into the gambling game was the result of a yearslong legal battle that ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ultimately found that Congress intruded on the state’s rights by blocking it from setting up a sports betting market. 
Fourteen states have now legalized sports gambling, including nearby Pennsylvania. New York only allows sports gambling at Native American facilities and four commercial gaming facilities. 

Cuomo will give his State of the State address next week, which will include both sports betting and marijuana legalization proposals. 

The governor noted Wednesday that Massachusetts has legalized recreational pot, and New Jersey plans to do the same. 

“So, what are we really talking about this point?” Cuomo said. 

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment. 

%d bloggers like this: