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New York Is (Right) Now

Andrew Cuomo moves the Empire State forward


It’s been a big, booming year for cannabis culture, politically and economically, with widespread advances being made on all fronts. Without question, however, the biggest news yet was made during the last week of July, when Andrew Cuomo, Democratic governor of the Great Empire State of New York, signed legislation into law that, for all practical purposes, effectively decriminalized marijuana. Cuomo, whose father Mario was an icon of their party’s politics for decades, carved his own little niche in history by taking that action, which will have an immediate positive effect on the Big Apple, and beyond.

His is the 15th state to decriminalize cannabis; 11 more have fully legalized it. Under the new law, persons caught in possession of an ounce or less of cannabis will be subject to a $50 fine, but will not be faced with the threat of arrest. If caught an amount between one ounce and two ounces, that fine jumps up to $200; the same applies to anyone caught smoking in public. The new law will also effectively nullify prior misdemeanor possession convictions. The FBI says that more than 360,000 New Yorkers were arrested on possession charges between 2008 and 2017, so this measure will easily save millions in man-hours and law-enforcement resources, to say nothing of the boost to that state's business climate.

It remains to be seen if this is a just a step toward full legalization, which has historically been the case—and that proposal has already received Mr. Cuomo’s approval, though he doesn’t have quite enough votes in the legislature—not yet, anyway. The Democratic majority is split over regulatory nuance, but it will probably take it up again next year. Cuomo himself received the gospel of legalization only in his third term as governor, so it’s possible he could convert sufficient numbers of his peers before that term ends in 2023. He will certainly try—all indications are that he'll be running for president in 2024. If Trump is re-elected next year, then Cuomo will be competing for an open seat, against a stacked field of Democrats who, for the most part, washed out in the current cycle.

We’ve already watched those in this year’s field flailing about, trying to outflank their peers on the weed issue. Joe Biden, in particular, has been flailing around like an earthworm in a tornado. Cannabis continues to be a marquee issue these days, and with legalization being worth an estimated $2 to $4 billion for New Yorkers, we surely have not heard the last word on this from Cuomo. Heck, we’ve barely heard the first. The man likes to talk, and sometimes people listen.

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