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Cuomo To Pitch Marijuana Legalization, Online Sports Betting Next Week

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo holds a briefing July 1, 2020.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo holds a briefing July 1, 2020.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for the third time in as many years, threw his support behind legalizing marijuana for adult, recreational use in New York Wednesday, saying the state’s massive budget deficit should be an impetus to reach a deal on the issue with the Legislature this year.Cuomo also said he’ll propose a measure that would legalize online sports betting through a mechanism that would allow the state to control the system and reap the revenue.

Negotiations over both issues have fizzled out in recent years for different reasons.

On marijuana, Democrats haven’t been able to agree on several key issues, like how much to tax the drug and what to do with the revenue generated by the industry. Some Democrats have also voiced concerns over road safety and the potential for use by children.

Cuomo predicted Wednesday that the state’s $15 billion budget gap will force the issue to the table as part of this year’s state budget, which is due at the end of March. Marijuana is projected to generate $300 million in annual revenue for the state when the industry is fully operational.

“I’ve tried to pass it, but this is the year that we need the funding and a lot of New Yorkers need the funding,” Cuomo said. “So I think this year will give us the momentum to get us over the goal line.”

Democrats in the state Legislature have been trying to legalize marijuana for the last several years, but previously haven’t had the votes to strike a deal on the issue.

But New York is now under new pressure to legalize the drug. Aside from the state’s budget deficit, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Jersey either already have legal marijuana or are in the process of setting up their own system.

Democrats have, historically, sought to legalize the drug as a reform to the state’s criminal justice system; data has shown higher rates of arrest for marijuana possession among people of color, which Cuomo pointed out Wednesday.

“I think too many people have been imprisoned, incarcerated, and punished,” Cuomo said. “Too many of those people are Black, Latino, and poor.”

Legalization of online, mobile sports betting has been an entirely different conversation between Cuomo and the state Legislature.

Cuomo’s office had previously taken the position that online, mobile sports betting couldn’t be legalized in New York without an amendment to the state constitution. That process takes several years, including approval from voters.

But that position has since shifted, according to a proposal unveiled Wednesday by Cuomo.

Under that proposal, the State Gaming Commission would choose a company to operate mobile sports betting in New York. That company would have to partner with one of the state’s licensed commercial casinos, where sports betting is currently allowed.

That way, Cuomo said, the state can collect more revenue than it would if it allowed multiple companies and casinos to control the market.

“Many states have done sports betting but they basically allow casinos to run their own gambling operations,” Cuomo said. “That makes a lot of money for casinos, but it makes minimal money for the state. And I’m not here to make casinos money.”

Both proposals are expected to be detailed as part of Cuomo’s State of the State address, which is expected to be presented as multiple speeches over a series of days. That starts next Monday.

Dan Clark is the managing editor of New York NOW, a product of public media covering state government, policy, and politics.

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