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Here's what's holding up the legalizing of marijuana in New York State

When state leaders moved ahead on the state budget without reaching agreement on legalizing recreational marijuana use, Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated it wasn't because he and legislators were on opposite ends of the debate.

"In concept, we have agreement," Cuomo said. "But that is all about the devil is in the details. And that is going to take more time to work out."

Negotiations are expected to resume later this month.

By many accounts, the two sides were close to a deal when the talks ceased. So what happened? What are the sticking points?

The money

How the state would divvy up the tax revenue from marijuana sales has emerged as a central issue.

From the get-go, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who introduced the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act in 2013, has insisted that half of the tax revenue should go toward reinvesting in communities that have borne the brunt of the war on drugs.

"That's the nonnegotiable," said her spokesman Kevin Jolly.

That tax money is projected to be substantial. Cuomo's office has estimated it could bring in as much as $300 million a year.

The Assembly bill calls for using the revenue for everything from fixing sidewalks in poor communities to job training for people re-entering the workforce after incarceration. Some of the money would also go toward a revolving loan fund to help people interested in starting cannabis-related businesses, particularly those from less-affluent communities of color.

Cuomo is on board with revenues going toward community reinvestment, said Alphonso David, counsel to the governor. The question is how that would work.

"That's the conversation," David said. "The governor's proposal anticipated community reinvestment as well. We just have to have a conversation about creating a mechanism and creating a metric for deciding how to allocate those funds. The challenge is working out the details."

The state would be creating a new infrastructure to deal with a complex set of new laws and regulations related to the legalization of marijuana – and the goal is make sure it's done well and sustainably, David said.

The licenses

Another sticking point is who would be allowed to grow, process, distribute and sell marijuana and other cannabis-related products.

Cuomo's legislation sets up 13 kinds of licenses related to the growing, processing and sale of marijuana products.  The Assembly bill has 10. That's not the problem.

The sides now have to come to an agreement about how the licenses would be granted.

Both pieces of legislation include rules that would prohibit one person or company from getting licenses for growing, processing, distributing and selling marijuana as a way to keep big businesses from gobbling up the entire industry.

Another question is what to do about the 10 current medical marijuana license holders. Since the state legalized medical marijuana in 2014, the 10 companies have made large investments but have not made profits. Now, they're hoping to be allowed to get into recreational use, too.

In the states that expanded from medical to recreational marijuana, there has been "a wholesale evisceration of the medical program," said Steven Przybyla, a former health care lawyer who is now the president of Jushi Medical, a Florida-based medical marijuana company. "They're going to go out business."

To prevent that, Cuomo's office wants to set up a competitive bidding process for those firms to get recreational marijuana licenses.

That process would involve a hefty one-time fee, easily in the tens of millions of dollars. That pool of money would then be used to fund social justice programs and incubators that would help small businesses, particularly those run by people of color and women, get into the cannabis industry, David said.

Cuomo wants the legislation to set up a framework for how the licenses would operate but leave the particulars for later.

Criminal penalties

How much marijuana should a customer be allowed to have?

Marijuana possession has been decriminalized since 1977, but social justice advocates say that police have continued to use loopholes in marijuana-related laws, like using marijuana in a public place, as a tool to make arrests, particularly in poor and minority communities.

Melissa Moore, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said there have been more than 800,000 marijuana-related arrests statewide in the last 20 years.

"We need true comprehensive marijuana justice," she said. "It's not just about legalizing adult use."

Both the Cuomo and Assembly bills have provisions that further decriminalize marijuana and also make provisions to clear marijuana-related convictions.

But there are differences, too. For instance, Cuomo's version makes having up to an ounce of marijuana legal. The Assembly version wants the threshold to be 2 pounds. The Assembly version also calls for prohibiting law enforcement from considering the scent of marijuana as a reason to conduct a search.

While there’s eagerness for legalization among local advocates, they are willing to wait to make sure it’s done right, said Aleece Burgio, senior counsel with McGuire Development Co. and co-chairwoman of the New York State Bar Association Cannabis Committee.

“This is not something we want rushed," she said. "There are too many components like social equity ... and taxes that need to be discussed in more depth with the Governor’s Office. Let's fix the problems now.”

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