A poor medical marijuana program and recreational markets outside New York could force the state’s hands this year.
Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised voters New York would legalize adult-use marijuana in the state. He announced the intention like it was a foregone conclusion. Those following closely know New York didn’t legalize last year, but Cuomo is again making the same promises while doing a little more work to ensure it happens this time around.
Cuomo will embark on a cross-country tour of legal states, including Massachusetts, Illinois, and either California or Colorado, to analyze the “different versions” available of state marijuana programs. He will ask regulators the ins and outs of these programs, learning what worked and what didn’t in their states. The Cuomo Administration will synthesize the intel and form an actionable legalization strategy for New York based on the information.
“Everybody has goals,” Cuomo said. “We want a goal of social equity, we want to make sure young people can’t get it, et cetera. We want to make sure there are advantages to communities that have been oppressed. But then you look at the aftermath and many of those goals haven’t been met, right?”
However, Cuomo is also “throwing cold water on the idea of legalizing pot outside of the state budget,” wrote the New York Daily News editorial board, in a critical opinion. The primary issue—the state budget is due in six weeks and Cuomo’s leaving on a marijuana tourism trip of a lifetime. The NY governor won’t attempt to legalize cannabis through a separate legislative bill, as the group couldn’t get the votes last year for this mechanism.
New York did achieve decriminalization this way, but the Daily News harshly criticized the Cuomo administration, calling it “plain dumb” that “it is allowing the sale and use of the drug without collecting any tax revenue—or regulating the content of what’s sold.”
The Marijuana Business Daily reported last week that New York’s medical marijuana patient registry has slowed its growth incredibly in the last year. Less than 1% of New York residents have qualified as medical marijuana patients. That’s on the low spectrum for state medical marijuana program.
For comparison, 6.7% of Oklahoma residents have qualified as medical marijuana patients. New York’s low participation is due to the poor framework the state constructed for its medical marijuana program, which doesn’t allow patients smokable flower or edibles and limits the amount of dispensaries possible to 40 in the state. Residents might say 40 dispensaries isn’t enough in New York City alone, forget the state. (Worth noting: home delivery is allowed.)
Should New York legalize adult-use marijuana, Marijuana Business Daily estimates the market could eclipse $2 billion in sales, depending on regulatory hurdles. New York is also expected to generate $300 million in tax revenue. Recreational marijuana appears like a necessity in New York, particularly for growth opportunities, as the state might be left behind in the Northeast should Cuomo’s gambit fail. Neighboring states New Jersey and Pennsylvania have announced intention to legalize this year.
All of which might explain why Cuomo announced New York will pursue “regional coordination” with those states, as well as Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Cuomo hopes to achieve some regulation in sale limits, tax rates, minimum age purchases, and more, so there won’t be competition between these markets. That announcement could force legislators on the fence to compromise, or suffer the consequences of being the only state in the region without legal marijuana.