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NY Legal Marijuana Supporters Call For Dedicated Fund

Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, speaking at the Capital rally Tuesday.
Karen DeWitt

Backers of legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana in New York rallied at the Capitol on Tuesday, but some key differences among lawmakers might hold up passage.

The rally was organized by advocacy groups, including the Drug Policy Alliance and chapters of the New York Civil Liberties Union. They said momentum is growing in 2020 to enact a law to allow adult New Yorkers to buy cannabis for recreational use.

The groups also said the plan needs to include funding for communities that suffered disproportionately during marijuana prohibition.

The Assembly sponsor of the bill, Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, agreed. She said there needs to be a dedicated fund from revenues raised through drug sales to set up programs like job training, and helping people transition from prison back into society.  

“Some people have been incarcerated, most people have not,” Peoples-Stokes said. “Some people have lost their communities and their families, other people have gained swimming pools.”   

Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, said if the marijuana industry is brought “above ground,” then she said there has to be some repayment to those “who paid the price.”

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a legalization measure for the second year in a row during his State of the State message.  

He said it could generate $300 million in new tax revenues. Cuomo said he agrees that part of that money should go to communities disproportionately affected by prohibition. But in his bill, he directs all of the revenues into the state’s general fund. 

Peoples-Stokes, speaking to reporters after the rally, said the governor means well, but the bill needs to have that dedicated fund. 

“I know the governor has a good heart, and I know he probably will try to make sure that there are resources invested in communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted,” she said. “But quite honestly, he’s not governor for life. There could be another governor in five years.” 

She said if the ultimate agreement does not include a dedicated fund, she won’t vote for it.

“I’m not going to support the bill if it’s not in there,” Peoples-Stokes said.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she also wants a dedicated fund for adversely affected communities, but she's not ready to draw any lines in the sand. She said the Senate will make every effort to get the item passed as part of the state budget this year.  

“There’s as good a prospect as there was last year,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We’ll see if we can work through some of the issues.” 

In 2019, the measure did not become part of the budget, and it failed as a standalone bill when it could not generate enough votes in the Senate. This year, more senators support legalizing cannabis, and polls show that the majority of voters are with them.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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