No Deal Yet on New York’s Cannabis Legalization Negotiations

Deal or no deal on New York’s adult use legalization negotiations? As of early Wednesday evening, no deal. 

“An agreement is imminently close, we hope to resolve any final bill language issues over the next few days as we await the final print version of the bill to vote on next week,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire

On Wednesday, shortly after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated during a press briefing that a deal is “close,” several media outlets reported that lawmakers had struck a deal.

(Read Cannabis Wire’s extensive coverage of New York’s winding path toward legalization.)

New York Senator Diane Savino, who is a longtime supporter of medical cannabis and adult use legalization, told Cannabis Wire early Wednesday evening that the agreement was “98%” done. Savino laid out the areas that lawmakers are still “ironing out,” while highlighting areas of agreement, including the ability for New York residents to grow their own cannabis for either adult or medical use, and the lifting of the no-smokables rule for medical cannabis products. 

Vehicle traffic law and the potential for cannabis impaired driving continue to be a topic of negotiation, Savino said.  

“We have to try and find a way to strike the balance here in New York, where we’re making something legal, but we don’t want to over prosecute people,” Savino told Cannabis Wire. “So the Assembly is always on one side where they don’t want to make any new crimes. And the Senate is a little bit more—I don’t want to use the word responsible—but more realistic.” 

Savino elaborated that current law requires that licensed drivers in New York agree to blood, breath, saliva, and/or urine tests if someone is pulled over and suspected of being impaired.

Savino said that it “wouldn’t make sense for us to lessen that just because now marijuana is legal. We don’t do that for alcohol or anything else.” 

But Savino continued, “We were kind of up against this challenge between the two houses of: how do we make sure we’re not aggressively pursuing people because we think they’re using marijuana, even though we’ve said it’s okay to use marijuana?” she asked. “How do we manage this and treat it almost the way we treat alcohol? And I think that’s been what’s been the stumbling block for the past few days.” 

New York would be the sixteenth to legalize cannabis for adult use (along with Washington, D.C.), but there is still no national standard for roadside testing for cannabis impairment similar to a breathalyzer for alcohol and the .08 BAC threshold. 

There is, on the other hand, an agreement on cannabis tax revenue and where it’s headed. In past years, Cuomo and lawmakers have butted heads over Cuomo’s proposal that revenue go into the general fund, whereas lawmakers wanted specific earmarks for equity provisions and community reinvestment. Though she couldn’t provide specifics, Savino said the latest agreed upon proposal shows revenue going “directly to specific purposes.” 

Savino said that “issues on distribution licenses were kind of a sticky issue,” though there is now agreement. Further there was “outstanding discussion” on cannabis packaging, which Savino thought was “ridiculous,” given the robust standards on packaging that have emerged in the 15 states that have legalized cannabis for adult use. 

Other areas of agreement: licenses for consumption spaces and home grow for both medical and adult use, though Savino said that the current proposal would stagger who can grow, and when. Six months after the effective date of the bill, medical patients or their caregivers would be allowed to grow six plants, while those seeking to cultivate for adult use would have to wait 18 months, she said. 

“They don’t want people growing before you have the opportunity to get a real adult use market off the ground,” Savino said. “I’m not a big fan of home grow, but I do see that for some patients, it’s the only way they’re going to be able to have access because of the size of the state … But we do put limits on it for just that reason, that we don’t want to have a scenario where people are turning their basements into miniature grow houses.” 

“For some reason, the governor felt it was important to remove the indoor growing requirement. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know who’s going to grow this stuff outdoors, but he thought that was a big deal. Great. God bless America,” Savino said. 

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