April 1, 2020

Hopes for Legalization Dashed Again in New York as Massachusetts Closes Dispensaries

April 1, 2020
Updates on cannabis in New York and Massachusetts in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Marijuana legalization is pushed to the back burner again in New York. The issue fails to make it into New York’s state budget for 2020 as Governor Andrew Cuomo and state officials grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

In a press briefing, Cuomo was asked if legalizing recreational marijuana would be part of the New York state budget this year. “It’s not likely,” he replied. “Too much, too little time.”

Cuomo made his comments during his daily briefing on the coronavirus as the budget deadline approached. New York has a $15 billion budget gap, caused by the fallout from the coronavirus, where New York City is at the nation’s epicenter.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) was introduced by a longtime advocate for drug policy reform, Democratic state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) who said recently that it was not realistic that Gov. Cuomo and the NY state Legislature could negotiate a complicated measure like legal marijuana in the budget amid with all of the distractions caused by the coronavirus crisis.

As of April 1, 2020, New York State has the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases in the country, with 83,712 cases and 1,941 deaths. More than half of the positive cases and nearly 80% of the deaths are concentrated in New York City.

While news of legalization being pushed to the back burner, again, in the nation’s largest city, advocates say it’s understandable.

“I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the circumstances that we would be operating within as we are in the final days of closing the budget here in New York,” said Melissa Moore, Deputy State Director of New York for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

“Not moving to legalize cannabis through the budget process right now … it makes sense,” Moore said.

What doesn’t make sense is why Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) extended the temporary closure of the state’s recreational marijuana shops.

Gov. Baker told reporters that allowing dispensaries to reopen could exacerbate the coronavirus crisis by attracting visitors from neighboring states where cannabis is still illegal.

Negative effect of ruling

One Massachusetts mother of two young children, Shannon Venezia, has not had an epilepsy-related seizure in over four years as a result of using cannabis instead of prescription drugs. She told NBC News that she didn’t know what she was going to do if the order to keep dispensaries closed stays in place.

“Am I going to have to go to the black market, or am I going to have to try and get my card renewed and potentially expose myself to people who are sick?” Venezia asked.

Massachusetts is the only state out of the 11 that have legalized recreational cannabis to deem that cannabis dispensaries are not “essential businesses.”

Massachusetts legalized adult-use cannabis nearly four years ago and it became available in 2018.


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