ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday said suggestions that he needs to take an active role twisting legislators’ arms “is a problem” because it shows a lack of support among lawmakers to legalize marijuana in the remaining weeks of the 2019 session.
“They told me they had the votes," Cuomo said in an interview Friday on WXXI, a Rochester public radio station.
An effort to legalize marijuana cultivation, distribution and sales in New York State – along with use in many public places – had its first setback in March when the plan died as part of state budget talks. While backed by many lawmakers, a host of law enforcement, health and other groups have fiercely been fighting the push to legalize the drug in New York.
Cuomo, who supports marijuana legalization, has said for months that the budget – where the issue could be tossed into omnibus bills to give some fence-sitting legislators a bit of political cover – was the best chance that the effort would have in 2019.
The 2019 session ends June 19. There are still a host of unresolved issues over how a marijuana legalization program would be operated in New York, including the roles of large corporate versus small startups in the retail and marijuana systems and precisely how the state marijuana tax proceeds would be spent.
Asked about how some marijuana advocates are seeking the governor to use his political capital to convince reluctant legislators to back the plan, Cuomo told the radio station Friday: “It makes me nervous that they are saying that because they told me they had the votes. They’re now saying, ‘Well, we need the governor to weigh in.’ That’s a bad sign legislatively. That means they’re having trouble getting the votes. That’s a different situation than they had said heretofore. … That’s a signal that they don’t have the political support and that’s a problem."
Some veteran lawmakers have begun in recent days working on a fallback plan if the marijuana legalization effort fails: making sweeping changes to the state’s existing medical marijuana program to try to make those products available to more patients, attract more doctors to the initiative and to try to lower the high costs consumers face in New York State.
On Friday, State Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat, introduced a bill – submitted a few days earlier in the Assembly – that addresses only medical marijuana law amendments. Savino is the original Senate author of the original medical marijuana legislation a decade ago.