Pot Legalization A Priority for 2019, Gov. Cuomo Says

By Kelly Burch 01/07/19

Cuomo has positioned legalization as a key factor in "the most progressive agenda this state has ever seen, period."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made pot legalization a priority for New York

The state of New York inched closer to major marijuana legalization and reform when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that recreational marijuana should be legalized "once and for all" in early 2019.

Speaking on December 17, 2018 and again in his inaugural address on January 1, 2019, Cuomo included legalization, as well as an end to "needless and unjust criminal convictions" for possession, as part of his administration's agenda for the first 100 days of the new year. 

Cuomo's latest push for legalization comes at a time when support is reaching large and diverse numbers: Half of metro-area New York residents and the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, have expressed support for such a measure. The decision has far-ranging implications for the state – as WABC in New York noted, City Comptroller Scott Stringer estimated that the state stands to reap approximately $1.3 million in annual tax revenue from legalization.

For his part, Cuomo has positioned legalization as a key factor in "the most progressive agenda this state has ever seen, period," and one that includes justice reform, gun control, affordable health care and increased spending on the state's infrastructure, and which can be viewed as rebuke of the Trump administration. 

"When they write the history books and ask what did we do – in the face of anger and division, when people were disillusioned, let New York's answer be that in this defining moment we brought healing and light and hope and progress and action," said Cuomo in prepared remarks during his inaugural speech. "That New York led on legalizing recreational marijuana, bringing justice and new economic opportunity, not for rich corporations, but for the poor communities that paid too high a price for too long."

District Attorney Gonzalez's actions in Brooklyn echoed Cuomo's message of progressive reform by asking for the removal of 28 past convictions for misdemeanor possession charges. The court also vacated 1,400 open warrants for individuals who missed court appearances for marijuana possession charges. 

"I do not believe these cases keep us safer," Gonzalez said. "They cause a lot of distrust in our justice system. We all here know there is a tremendous racial disparity in respect to how these cases have been enforced in the past."

Gonzalez added that the decision to clear the convictions does not indicate a blanket response to all such past charges but instead reflects the growing legal attitude towards such cases. "It's a little unfair to say we're no longer prosecuting these cases, but to have these folks carry these convictions for the rest of their lives [would be unfair]," said Gonzalez

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.