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New York Fails to Legalize Marijuana After Bill Is Snuffed Out in State Senate

After days of contentious negotiations, a bill that would legalize the sale of recreational marijuana was snuffed out in the New York state legislature.

Manhattan state Sen. Liz Krueger, the top supporter of legalization efforts in the Big Apple, admitted defeat Wednesday, saying it’d become painfully clear that legalization wasn’t in the cards for this year.

Efforts to legalize marijuana in New York got bogged down by questions on how tax revenue from the drug would be spent, among other issues. (Getty Images)

“It is clear now that [the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act] isn’t going to pass this session,” Krueger (D) said in a statement posted to Twitter. “This is not the end of the road, it is only a delay. Unfortunately, that delay means countless more New Yorkers will have their lives up-ended by unnecessary and racially disparate enforcement measures before we inevitably legalize.”

“We came very close to crossing the finish line,” she added. “But we ran out of time.”

The legalization advocate vowed to continue pushing for “tax-and-regulate adult-use programs,” specifically ones focused on restorative justice “in the communities most harmed by decades of failed prohibition policies.”

The Hill reported that legalizing pot for recreational use had become a top priority for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year, however an effort to include it in his budget failed. The stand-alone bill was ultimately hung up on three key issues, including whether to allow cities and counties to opt of legalizing the sale of marijuana in their communities.

Questions over how tax revenue from the drug would be spent and how to prevent folks from “driving while stoned” were also up for debate.

Despite victories in the November elections that allowed Democrats to take back control in both legislative houses and the executive branch for the first time in 10 years, Krueger’s legalization bill struggled to garner enough support to pass the state Senate, Gothamist reported. Key Dems concentrated in the cities of Westchester and Long Island voiced opposition to the bill, leaving it just one vote short of being passed.

Still, there were those who pointed the finger at Cuomo for the failed negotiations.

Citing sources familiar with the matter, the news site reported that discussions on the legislation had at times stalled, due to the governor’s objection to a stipulation in the bill requiring that half the revenue garnered by marijuana sales be reinvested into communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

“Money and power is what killed the marijuana justice campaign,” Jeremy Saunders, co-director of grassroots group VOCAL-NY, told Gothamist. “The governor easily could have gotten this done. But when Black legislators demanded reinvestment back into their communities … he committed to killing it.

“Racist arrests will continue and people with convictions will keep suffering all because of Cuomo and leaders like [Speaker of the Assembly Carl] Heastie and [Senate Majority Leader Andrea] Stewart-Cousins refusing to challenge his power,” Saunders added.

With the legalization bill now dead, Democrats are reportedly in talks of drafting a back-up bill that would allow the records of previous low-level marijuana offenses to be sealed. The fine for non-criminal possession  would also be reduced to $50, according to Gothamist.

A 2019 Quinnipiac University poll showed that 65 percent of New York voters support allowing adults to legally possess weed, with 59 percent supporting the sale of legal marijuana in their communities.

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