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Cuomo says marijuana legalization unlikely in state budget this month

ALBANY – It’s unlikely legalization of marijuana will be a part of a final state budget deal in the coming weeks, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

Cuomo has proposed a complex system for regulating and taxing a new marijuana cultivation, distribution and retail system. The governor envisions legalized marijuana will eventually bring the state $300 million annual in tax revenues.

Cuomo said other complicated issues in addition to legalizing marijuana are filling up budget talks, and they must be resolved by March 31 for the budget to be adopted on time.

“The rate of progress does not suggest it’s going to happen," Cuomo said of the marijuana proposal during a briefing with reporters Monday morning at the State Capitol.

The governor said an increasing number of stakeholders has been raising “good points” about the marijuana effort, including criticisms by sheriffs, district attorneys and parent-teacher associations.

“There’s a wide divide on marijuana," Cuomo said. "I believe, ultimately, we can get there. And we must get there. I don’t believe we get there in two weeks, and also that’s what the legislative leaders are saying."

A top lawmaker, however, disagreed with Cuomo’s remarks. “I don’t know why he said that," said State Sen. Liz Krueger, the chairwoman of the power Senate Finance Committee and the sponsor of the Senate measure to legalize marijuana for adults.

“Up until now, he’s made clear he wants to negotiate marijuana in the budget," said Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.

“We have some changes we’d like to see to the governor’s package, but we’ve been discussing it with him and his people all along, and I feel actually surprisingly good that marijuana will be in the budget. I don’t know who the governor has been talking to that would lead him to a different conclusion."

The Senate and Assembly are due on Wednesday to approve their own, one-house budget plans, which will publicly set out their priorities for the budget talks with Cuomo. Both houses are expected to embrace marijuana legalization, though not in the specific ways Cuomo has proposed. The Assembly effort has been sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat.

Cuomo also said:

• He will not sign a budget that does not include making permanent in law the state’s property tax cap program and a series of criminal justice changes, including more speedy trials, ending cash bail and what critics call defendant-friendly discovery rules.

• He will travel to other states to try to build momentum to get Washington to change the federal tax law that limits the ability of taxpayers to deduct state and local taxes on their federal returns. The tax law disproportionately hits high-tax states like New York with more higher incomes. Cuomo’s travel itinerary would likely not include dozens of lower-tax states whose leaders have said for years they subsidize high-tax states with big state spending.

• The budget needs to include some kind of system to publicly finance political campaigns. But he opened the door wide to leaving a host of major decisions – from funding to whether multiple party line races are eligible – to sometime in the future. He also said there have been no discussions with legislative leaders about ending so-called fusion voting, in which minor parties cross-endorse major party candidates.

Key questions remain in New York's road to legal marijuana

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