July 7, 2020

How COVID-19 Derailed Legal Weed in New York

July 7, 2020

When New York state achieved the dubious title as the epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared in late March that the legislative session was effectively over after several state lawmakers tested positive for the coronavirus.

Among the unfinished business that would have to wait until 2021 was legalization of adult-use of marijuana, which had appeared all but certain to pass in New York’s Democratic-dominated legislature.  

Cuomo himself had vowed to make legalization a priority during his State of the State address in January 2018.

Although some official opposition still remains, a Siena College survey of New York registered voters recently found that 58% supported legalization.

A less-scientific NewsHouse poll of more than 250 New York college students found that more than 91% favored legalization.

No surprise there as another international study, done by ABCD’s Cannabis Price Index, found that New Yorkers consumed more pot in 2018 than any other city in the world. And the competition isn’t even close.

New York and Cannabis Legalization

New York has pushed off cannabis legalization, at least for now. The culprit appears to be the same thing upending life everywhere – the COVID-19 pandemic.

A strident supporter of legalization, State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda (D-Bronx) acknowledged that COVID-19 made a proper policy discussion about legalization impossible, at least for now.

“Ultimately, when the storm settles, we are going to have to deal with it one way or another,” Sepúlveda told the Observer-Dispatch.

“We are going to pass some form of legalization, and you know what, when you consider the incredible deficits that we are going to have as a result of corona, all revenue streams are going to have to be considered … including gambling, online gambling and things of that nature,” he added.

State officials seem to agree that legal cannabis could play an important role in helping New York raise much-needed revenue, especially after the coronavirus has, to date, cost the Big Apple in excess of $10 billion in revenue, including 475,000 lost jobs.  

New York State’s shortfall, says Gov. Cuomo, could be in excess of $13.3 billion for 2020 and up to $61 billion between 2021 and 2024.

Advocates also hope that legal cannabis will help lower the state’s massive incarceration rates

Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NYC

Meanwhile, New York City officials finalized rules for a local ban on pre-employment drug testing for marijuana, a policy that took effect in May 2020, and added additional exemptions to allow more workers to be screened for cannabis before they are hired. Hopefully the rest of the state will follow with this initiative.


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