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Adult-use marijuana likely not to be ruled on until after budget passes

A measure that would legalize adult use marijuana in New York will likely wait until after the state budget is finalized at the end of March, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Thursday said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $175 billion spending proposal includes a marijuana legalization plan, which would reorganize how cannabis is regulated in New York as well as a tax plan for retail sales.

But the issue is a complex one, even beyond the taxes. Lawmakers are discussing how to pair marijuana legalization with a criminal justice reform effort that could expunge the records of those charged with marijuana-related offenses.

At the same time, lawmakers want to provide incentives for communities affected by drug laws to profit from the program, steering away from a large corporation that would be interested in a license. Cuomo’s proposal includes similar provisions.

All that likely adds up to a longer debate that could last through the remainder of the legislative session, scheduled to end in June.

“We’ll talk about it. I’ll be honest: I don’t know if six weeks is enough time to get it done,” Heastie said. “If it can happen, great. But if not, we’ll deal with it. But more than getting things done quickly, it’s better to get things correctly.”

Lawmakers over the last month have approved a series of high-profile measures enabled by the Democratic majority in the state Senate, including bills meant to make it easier to vote, the Dream Act, the Child Victims Act, abortion rights and protections for transgender people.

Heastie acknowledged the issues will become more complex for legislators, such as changes to the criminal justice system. Lawmakers and Cuomo are seeking ways of ending cash bail, among other proposals.

“I think we’ll continue to go down our list of priorities,” he said. “It’s not that some things are easier or harder, but things were just done.”

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