With New York State’s April 1st budget deadline fast approaching, New Yorkers have looked to Albany for clarity on what government policies and programs will look like for 2020. One of the most hot-button issues in the slew of debates that have surrounded the budget has been the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA). The debate surrounding the CRTA and the legalization of marijuana has had a foggy outlook since it was first proposed by Governor Cuomo in January.
On March 20, Gov. Cuomo stated to the press that marijuana legalization would not be included in the 2020. His statement came along with a warning that passing of a marijuana bill outside of the budget would likely be difficult, but that the state legislature would come up with an agreement in June 2019. 12
The CRTA would create the Office of Cannabis Management, a subsidiary of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which would be responsible for regulating marijuana and industrial hemp in New York.3 Despite two out of three Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana, New York opposition has pushed doubt into the conversation over the passage of the CRTA by April 1 in the budget. The inclusion of the CRTA in the budget would open the door for New York to enter the growing number of states that have legalized and de-scheduled cannabis.
When it comes to the CRTA, the fiercest opposition has come from education and law enforcement groups. These groups, like the NYS Parent Teacher Association, Rural Schools Association, the Association of School Business Officials, and the Sheriff’s Association have urged lawmakers to wait on New York marijuana legalization outside of the budget process. 45
Education advocates have staked the claim that state leaders must “weight the social, legal, and public health implications” of marijuana.6 Representatives from law enforcement groups that oppose the CRTA have claimed that legalization is a public safety concern and voiced that it would aggravate the state’s opioid epidemic. Other say they’ll unilaterally oppose legalization regardless of whether it is included in the budget. 7 Despite the opposition in Albany, polls show that a majority of New Yorkers support the legalization of marijuana.8
It is crucial that New York passes the CRTA with the budget on April 1st and joins the rest of the country as we move closer to the end of the federal prohibition on cannabis. The outgoing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb said in a statement last week that federal rules for CBD could take at least three years, despite the 2018 Farm Bill’s legalization of hemp.9
Three years is far too long for Albany to acknowledge the rural upstate communities that have been left behind in favor of the growing metropolitan and suburban areas of the state. The legalization of cannabis would offer an opportunity for the vitalization of rural upstate communities; places that often feel ignored by lawmakers in Albany. The CRTA offers the unique opportunity for Albany to acknowledge communities in decline by developing an economically robust, innovative, and regulated cannabis market.