Now that Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers have conceded defeat in their effort to legalize adult recreational marijuana, they have agreed to further decriminalize the drug. In the final hours of the session, agreements on expanding the state’s limited medical marijuana program remained elusive.
Governor Cuomo, speaking on Albany public radio station WAMC, says it was a “mistake” not to legalize cannabis, and he says New York is losing revenues to other states, where the drug is legal.
But he says decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug is a “major” accomplishment and the “best that could be done” in the current session.
“It makes the situation much better especially for the black and brown community that has paid such a high price,” Cuomo said. “But, politically the support was not there to pass legalization.”
Cuomo says Democrats in the State Senate did have the votes to pass legalization, a fact confirmed by the Senate sponsor of the bill, Senator Liz Krueger.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie agrees that decriminalization is a step in the right direction.
“It will help undo some of the longtime injustices that our communities have had particularly communities of color that have borne the brunt of the criminal laws on marijuana,” Heastie said.
He says in politics, sometimes you don’t get everything you want on the first try.
“It’s an improvement on trying to get where we want to be,” said Heastie, “which is at some point legalization and full decriminalization.”
Criminal justice advocates are not satisfied.
The Drug Policy Alliance, which supports the legalization of marijuana, called it a “failure of leadership,” and they say it will not end what they call the “marijuana arrest crusade” that disproportionately effects black and Latinx communities. They say it also continues to give police too much discretion in who they arrest and under what circumstances.