Cuomo details social justice amendments to cannabis legalization proposal

Marijuana legalization in NY, NJ
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NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in January, as part of his budget, a proposal to legalize cannabis in New York State.

For years, state lawmakers have tried and failed to pass marijuana legalization.

“I believe if we don’t have it done by the budget, we are not going to get it done and I think it would be a failing if we don’t get it done this year,” Cuomo said Monday.

And on Tuesday morning the governor announced amendments to his original proposal, with a focus on social justice. The $100 million Cannabis Social Equity Fund details how money would go to communities that have suffered the most from the War on Drugs.

Community-based organizations and non-profits would apply to the state for funding.

“Unfortunately, it still seems to fall short of what’s needed,” Melissa Moore of the Drug Policy Alliance said. “It’s still helmed by the department of budget which is not necessarily responsive to the concerns that a lot of communities have about how the funds will actually be doled out.”

This proposal included, but is not limited to job placement, adult education, mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment. Housing, community banking, nutrition and childcare services are also part of what is funded.

Natalie Papillion, of the Last Prisoner Project, said communities that are still seeing high levels of marijuana criminalization deserve to have a say in the process.

“In 2020, the last year we have data available, we know that the NYPD issued around 10,000 criminal court summonses for low level possession and over 99% of those citations went to New Yorkers of color,” she said.

There is currently rival legislation in the assembly and senate and some legalization advocates with a focus on social justice favor that plan.

According to the NYS Division of the Budget, it does take time for the Cuomo plan to ramp up. The fund won’t reach $100 million until 2025.

Former NYPD officer Corey Pegues patrolled the streets of New York City for 21 years. He saw firsthand what the War on Drugs did to communities of color. He supports the legalization of marijuana. And he too, wants to make sure New Yorkers have a say.

“Communities know what they need,” Pegues said.

The new amendments to the Cuomo proposal also legalizes the delivery of cannabis. In addition, certain penalties have been reduced. Criminal sale in the third degree, which is a sale to someone under 21-years-old, would be a class A misdemeanor.

Criminal sale in the second degree, which is the sale over 16 ounces or 80 grams of concentrate would be a class E felony. And criminal sale in the first degree, which is the sale of over 64 ounces or 320 grams of concentrate will be a class D felony.

The question now: will the state legislature or the governor’s version of cannabis legalization pass? Or will another year go by with legalization attempts going up in smoke?

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