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What Happens to New York Now That New Jersey is Voting on Legalization?


After months of discussing the likely outcome, New Jersey lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly approved the inclusion of adult-use cannabis on its 2020 ballot. If approved, adults over the age of 21 would be able to participate in the legal marketplace. However, the vote would then turn the legislating back to lawmakers who struggled to put together a passable bill the year prior. 

Turning the decision over to the people may warrant some praise, if it weren’t coming off the heels of one of the most public political rebukes of cannabis the country has seen since the green rush took off. 

Incoming Governor Murphy campaigned heavily on legalizing adult-use cannabis within the first 100 days of his term. Murphy did live up to his promise to champion the cause, but fell severely short in gaining the support in the state Senate. Opposition resistance made the matter trying, while fighting within the party further fractured any promise of legislation moving forward in 2019. The vote would eventually be pulled by Senate President Stephen Sweeney after it became apparent the measure didn’t have the 21 votes needed for the upper house. 

Recent polling out of Monmouth University suggests that voters support cannabis, at more than 6 in 10 people. However, polling has been shown to not always be accurate. And with certainty already out the door in the Northeast when it comes to cannabis, we’ll have to wait and see. Across the river, New York continues to ponder its legalization future, as does some of its neighboring states. 

With all the latest developments, and after being linked on the issue for so long, how does New Jersey’s decision to vote on adult-use affect New York? 

New York Lawmakers Appear Hopeful

Evan Nison, a cannabis entrepreneur who has worked as a lobbyist, believes New York should be able to pass a bill this time around. “With Democrats holding a safe majority in the New York Senate, passing a bill should be doable,” said Nison. He added, “If the governor gets behind it and encourages the legislature to make it a priority, I foresee a cannabis industry appearing in New York before New Jersey.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo supporting and encouraging the legislature seems plausible enough, and lawmakers believe so as well. This is a far cry from the Cuomo who once opposed legalization just a few years ago. In recent weeks, Cuomo hired Norman Birenbaum, who is regarded for helping advance legalization efforts for Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondi.

Some influential state lawmakers now believe 2020 is the year. This includes Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Assembly District 141, which includes Buffalo. In December, Peoples-Stokes expressed her belief that the measure would pass in 2020

State Senator Diane Savino told The Marijuana Times that New Jersey punting the decision to the voters removes the pressure on New York to act promptly. That said, Savino believes the process will roll out, with Gov. Cuomo including a new version of the bill in this year’s state budget once again. 

“Building on the increased public opinion polls that show growing support for a legal market, coupled with the recognition that New Yorkers are jeopardizing their own health by using vape products, there is a feeling that we can overcome the objections of last year,” said Sen. Savino.

Ryan Lepore, Deputy Director of NYC NORML and a board member for Empire State NORML, wasn’t as certain of any outcome just yet. “New York has been traditionally reactive to outside catalysts opposed to proactively in control of its priorities. This shows us anything can happen next.” 

Lepore added, “We can expect to see the good, the bad, and the ugly here in New York.”

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Evan Nison finds irony in the whole situation. The cannabis entrepreneur with experience lobbying for legalization himself highlighted Governor Murphy for kickstarting the conversation in the tristate area. However, now Nison expects New Jersey to lag. He explained, “Due to the Senate Majority Leader not being able to get enough votes in the Senate, New York will likely now lead on this issue.”

Looking Ahead

It appears that both New York and New Jersey have bright prospects for legalizing adult-use measures this time around. While much remains in doubt, it is certain: New York won’t head to a vote like New Jersey. 

Unlike the Garden State, New York is not an initiative and referendum state. As such, the measure can not be punted to the voters. Sen. Savino explained the only way this could go to the voters would be for a constitutional amendment to pass two consecutive sessions of the legislature before it could be put up for a vote. “However, there is no constitutional issue to be amended. If so, we would have had to do it for the passage of medical cannabis,” Savino elaborated.

Instead, Savino said the Senate and Assembly will also introduce an amended version of the Krueger/People-Stokes bill, which enacts cannabis tax and regulations.

In New Jersey, Nison believes the vote will pass, but remained frustrated by the outcome of it all. “By sending this issue to voters, the legislature is delaying the repeal of prohibition by years in a state that still criminalizes possession.” 

Under the new path of legalization in the state, Nison forecasts a long road to implementation when the market is booming around them. “Legislators accomplish nothing by exercising such extreme political caution, rather than going through the proper law-making procedures and passing a statute themselves now.”