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Cuomo, COVID-19, and Cannabis Legalization


As part of the Governor’s State of the State address, Andrew Cuomo(D) announced another proposal for cannabis legalization which would create an equitable adult-use cannabis program this year.

Gov. Cuomo has previously stated that legalizing cannabis could be a key way that NY makes an economic recovery from the pandemic. According to State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, NY has paid out more than $59 billion in unemployment benefits to over 3.9 million NYers during the COVID-19 crisis. NY has confirmed more than a million cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and more than 38,000 have died due to the disease. 

Gov. Cuomo stated that one of the many reasons to legalize cannabis is because it brings in tax revenue and NY will be “searching the cupboards for revenue” in the financial wake of COVID-19. Illinois, a state that legalized cannabis for recreational use just last year, is on pace to see more than $1 billion in combined sales of medical and recreational cannabis products. 

Cannabis legalization has been dropped twice from the NY’s budget proposal after negotiations between Cuomo’s office and the State legislature fell through. The major sticking point is how the tax revenue from cannabis will be spent. Cuomo has now reintroduced another legalization measure in 2021. The proposal would create an office of Cannabis Management to oversee the adult-use (recreational), medical marijuana, and cannabinoid hemp programs. 

Assembly majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes(D), our previous issues’ cover feature, has advocated that tax revenue generated from cannabis should be used to help repair the damage cannabis prohibition has done to minority communities. According to the drug policy alliance, Black and Hispanic people accounted for 75% of NY’s cannabis arrests in 2019 and 93% of arrests in NYC in the first half of 2019. According to Cuomo’s press office, his new proposal would create licensing opportunities and assistance to entrepreneurs in communities of color that have been negatively impacted by the war on drugs.

Below is a timeline of NY’s regulatory changes regarding cannabis over the past decade. 

  • 2014 Cuomo signs The Compassionate Care Act, Medical Cannabis Legalized
  • 2016 Medical Cannabis Program Expanded to Include Chronic Pain
  • 2017 Medical Cannabis Program Expanded to Include PTSD
  • 2018 Medical Cannabis Program Expanded to Include Opioid Use
  • 2018 Cuomo Recommends Legislative Study on the Impact of Legalizing (recreational) Cannabis
  • 2018 Department of Health Completes Study and Recommends Legalizing Cannabis citing Economic, Public Health, and Public Safety Benefits
  • 2019 Further decriminalization measures passed
  • 2020 Cannabis legalization is dropped from the State’s budget due to the emergence of COVID-19 
  • 2021 Cuomo Announces Proposal to Legalize and Create an Equitable Adult-use Cannabis Program as Part of the 2021 State of the State Address


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