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ALBANY, NY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been saying for months that he would like the state legislature to legalize the recreational use of marijuana as part of the budget process, which is due to be completed by April 1. But, this week, he indicated that probably is not going to happen, and if the legislation is not passed as part of the budget process, it is not likely to be passed at all this year.
In a wide-ranging press conference on March 11, he said that the budget process is large enough that lawmakers can accept political risks that would not be acceptable outside of the budget process. If lawmakers try to address it after the budget passes, Cuomo said, “now the PTAs start to call and say, ‘well how do we make sure children aren’t going to get it?’ and ‘it’s not going to be sold near a school’ and ‘you have to make sure you can’t have a straw purchaser.’ Can’t be like the old days where Jesse McKinley was underage and sent an 18-year-old to buy beer and then he walked down the block and he gave it to him. How do we stop that with marijuana? So now it becomes practical, and that’s where we are, right? District attorneys raise points, sheriffs raise points, and they’re good points, but now you have to work through them.”
Another area Cuomo has been hoping to address through the budget process is criminal justice reform, and he said he’s not willing to let go of that goal this time around. However, he said the divide over criminal justice reform is wider than the divide over marijuana.
“The Republican Senate would never do it. But we now have Democrats who have assured they’re going to do it. The concerns don’t go away just because you elected Democrats. The district attorneys still call up and say, ‘I have a problem.’ The sheriffs still call up and say, ‘I have a problem.’ The police departments still call up and say, ‘I have a problem.’ And it’s not that Democrats are immune to concerns of law enforcement.
“So, I believe there are significant divides. The budget is a point of reconciliation, and it is the strongest point of reconciliation in the year. It forces people to make tough decisions. And it forces legislators to make tough decisions. The old expression, ‘a legislator who decides nothing does nothing wrong.’ People don’t like to make controversial decisions. The budget is that point of reconciliation. The budget is also a large document with a lot of other issues where, if it’s in the budget, you can say, ‘you know, I didn’t really support that, but I did support education aide, and to get the education aide I had to support the budget.’”
Cuomo’s other budget priorities this year include making the property tax cap permanent, reforming and funding the MTA and passing ethics reform.