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How The Coronavirus Has Negatively Impacted Marijuana Legalization

Without the ability to gather in person, marijuana reform efforts have stalled in multiple states across the country.

If you want to fully understand how the coronavirus has impacted marijuana legalization, look at New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo vowed adult-use marijuana would come to the state this year, with reform occurring through the state budget. Cuomo’s proposal was given further momentum as regional states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania announced they would work with New York on the shared goal of introducing recreational marijuana to the Northeast.

Cuomo’s vision was derailed by the novel coronavirus. The state has justifiably dedicated their attention and resources toward the public health crisis. Lawmakers like State Sen. Liz Krueger, among the biggest supporters of adult-use legalization, told reporters she no longer sees the legislation as “realistic” in the current moment. State legislators believe ending prohibition should be done the right way and wait until the coronavirus outbreak is over.

“Our immediate priority should be passing a budget extender to keep the government running while ensuring the state has the necessary resources to address the coronavirus crisis,” Assemblyman Robert Smullen wrote in a column. “The potential legalization of marijuana and other unrelated policy issues should be legislated outside of the state budget when they can receive full and proper consideration.”

Cuomo hasn’t given up hope, though. He has tried to expedite marijuana legalization through an accelerated budget process. Although lawmaker support appears to be waning, Cuomo did not back down at a press conference Monday.

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“We will pass a budget and address the policy items that we laid out and we discussed,” Cuomo said. “Because it’s not just about passing a budget and the numbers there are many policy initiatives that I laid out back in January and we’re going to pursue all of them.”

“I want to do legalizing marijuana,” he added.

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Achieving groundbreaking marijuana legalization and practicing responsible behavior to combat the coronavirus appear at odds, however. Last month, Vermont’s House and Legislature agreed to terms for recreational marijuana, but couldn’t finalize details around regulation and tax rates. These important issue cannot be resolved right now, as lawmakers have temporarily adjourned as a precautionary measure.

Advocates in Nebraska have suspended collecting signatures in their medical marijuana legalization campaign in response to the coronavirus. The group needs to collect 130,000 signature by July to qualify medical marijuana as a ballot initiative, but that appears unlikely unless the coronavirus threat ends within the next few weeks. An Ohio group needed to gather 443,000 valid signatures from registered voters by July 1 as well to put recreational marijuana on the November ballot. But Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced a “stay-at-home” order this week, suspending the group’s ability to mobilize.

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The Nebraska group remains hopeful that medical marijuana will be on the ballot this November.

“Thank you to all Nebraskans who have given their support so far to our effort to get voter approval of legalized medical cannabis on the ballot this fall,” Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana wrote on Facebook. “Your signatures, along with overwhelming citizen support for the measure, is going to help make it a reality and bring relief to individuals and communities throughout our entire state.”

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