Governor Andrew Cuomo has been trying to bring legalized marijuana to New York for years. The state was poised to legalize in March until several lawmakers tested positive for COVID19. Now, the Empire State is in dire need of economic relief, which Cuomo thinks will pressure the state’s legislature to finally green-light recreational marijuana, likely during the 2021 legislative session. 

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The economic impact of COVID-19

New York City, one of the most popular tourist destinations globally, has long had its economic engine fueled by a steady stream of tourism. Then, the pandemic hit, and New York City’s most vital industry collapsed. Because New York City relied on tourism, its economy has fared worse than most other major cities in the country. Mass layoffs and business closures continue to plague the city.

New York’s tourism promotion agency, NYC & Company, estimates that 12 million people visited the city this year before the shutdown. Still, the total in the proceeding nine months may only reach 10 million, a number that includes all of the medical personnel who arrived in response to the COVID19 pandemic. It’s estimated that the city will end the year with just one-third of last year’s total tourists.

“I think this year is ripe because the state is going to be desperate for funding,” Cuomo said in an interview with WAMC radio.  “I’ve supported it for years. The question becomes about the money—about the distribution and the power,” he said “What does it always come back down to? Money and power.

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Who gets the licenses and who gets the money.” Cuomo added that the policy change will be necessary “even with Biden, even with a stimulus, even with everything else, we’re still going to need funding. And it’s also the right policy.”

Legalization within sight

Over the last year, New York has passed progressive marijuana policies but stopped short of legalizing it.  Last month, the New York State Unified Court System announced steps that people can take to clear their records for prior marijuana convictions after the governor signed it into law last year.

Additionally, a local law enacted in New York City this summer bans pre-employment drug testing for marijuana for most positions.  New York’s current unemployment rate is at about 15% - which is twice as high as the rest of the country. The financial crisis is likely to force cuts to education, transit and other indispensable public resources if they don’t drum up some more revenue (I.E., marijuana taxes).

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States with legal pot surround New York. Massachusetts legalized pot in 2016. New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a cannabis legalization referendum earlier this month, adding even more pressure to New York City’s lawmakers. 

Lawmakers know that New Yorkers can easily drive across the border to obtain it, and with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, marijuana legalization seems like it may not be a merely logical choice, but an entirely necessary thing for New York to do.