Pubdate: Thu, 20 Jun 2019
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2019 The New York Times Company
Author: Vivian Wang


ALBANY - New York's plan to legalize marijuana this year collapsed on
Wednesday, dashing hopes for a potential billion-dollar industry that
supporters said would create jobs in minority communities and end
decades of racially disproportionate policing.

Democratic lawmakers had been in a headlong race to finalize an
agreement before the end of the legislative session this week. But
persistent disagreement about how to regulate the industry, as well as
hesitation from moderate lawmakers, proved insurmountable.

"It is clear now that M.R.T.A. is not going to pass this session,"
Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan said in a statement on Wednesday
morning, using an acronym for the legalization bill she had sponsored.
"We came very close to crossing the finish line, but we ran out of

She added, "Unfortunately, that delay means countless more New Yorkers
will have their lives upended by unnecessary and racially disparate
enforcement measures before we inevitably legalize." Sign Up for
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With just hours remaining before the session was scheduled to end on
Wednesday, state lawmakers turned their attention instead to a backup
plan to decriminalize, but not legalize, marijuana, which was
introduced on Sunday.

The backup bill would reduce the penalty for marijuana possession and
allow for certain marijuana-related criminal records to be erased.
Other bills under consideration would expand the state's medical
marijuana program or regulate the hemp industry.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who had declared legalization a priority for
this year, said he would support a decriminalization bill.

"I was asked earlier this week on a radio show if I would settle for
decriminalization as a backup, and I said I keep fighting," Mr. Cuomo
said in a statement on Wednesday.

But, he continued, "We have now reached hour 20. Communities of color
have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for
far too long and it has to end."

Still, it remains unclear how much support decriminalization has in
the Legislature. Ms. Krueger said on Wednesday that the Senate
Democrats had not yet discussed the proposal and that she was "torn"
about it, worrying that it would deflate future efforts for full

The failure to fully legalize marijuana was a blow to supporters who
had held rallies in the State Capitol, bought social media
advertisements and hired public relations firms for a furious
last-minute campaign. On Tuesday, state lawmakers from Illinois, who
successfully passed a legalization bill last month, traveled to Albany
to meet with their New York counterparts.

A recent poll showed that 55 percent of voters supported

But the external pressure could not resolve an intraparty battle
between state officials over who should control the estimated $1.7
billion in sales the recreational market could generate each year.

Mr. Cuomo had proposed creating a new state agency to oversee the
industry and to decide how the money should be spent. But legislators,
led by Ms. Krueger and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes of
Buffalo, insisted on including in statute a guarantee that fixed
proportions of revenue would be reinvested into communities most
affected by the war on drugs.

Absent that guarantee, lawmakers, especially nonwhite ones, vowed not
to legalize.

"I'm not willing to create a market that will allow existing wealthy
people to gain wealth and leave out the people that I represent," Ms.
Peoples-Stokes said in an interview.

In the wake of the effort's demise, Democrats blamed each other. Ms.
Krueger said the governor had not lent his full support to the
legalization effort, even sometimes "privately saying, 'Maybe it's not
a good idea.'"

Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, said Mr. Cuomo's
office had been trying to devise a legalization bill that the
Legislature would support for weeks.

"The Legislature wanted to do this outside the budget," he said,
referring to an April 1 omnibus bill. "The governor has always
predicted it would be harder to do, and that's where we are today."

A diverse coalition of law enforcement officials, parent-teacher
associations and health professionals celebrated the news of the
bill's failure, calling it a victory over a "predatory pot industry"
that they said would threaten traffic safety and victimize communities
already suffering from drug abuse.

"Today, New York legislators learned that commercializing marijuana
brings along a host of significant health, safety and societal costs
that result in no tax money and no social justice," Kevin Sabet, the
president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana New York, an
anti-legalization group, said in a statement.

Opponents had especially focused their lobbying efforts on senators
from suburban Long Island. Ms. Peoples-Stokes said on Wednesday that
while her chamber supported legalization, the Senate did not have the

Activists opposed passage of the alternative marijuana bills on
Wednesday, calling them half-measures that would not address years of
harm to communities of color. A coalition of public defenders
including The Legal Aid Society and the Bronx Defenders said in a
statement that the decriminalization plan fell "disastrously short."

Like Ms. Krueger, they also worried that it would ease pressure for
full legalization in the future.

But Ms. Peoples-Stokes, who also sponsored the decriminalization bill,
said she was sure legislators would return to the issue.

"The market is so big. People are still going to want access to it,"
she said. "But you cannot leave out the people that suffer."

Jesse McKinley contributed reporting.

Vivian Wang is a reporter for the Metro Desk, covering New York State
politics in Albany. She was raised in Chicago and graduated from Yale
University.  ---
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