According to the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), the Empire State is “very close” to legalizing marijuana. 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) echoed this sentiment on Monday, stating that lawmakers plan to advance the stand-alone legalization bill before passing the budget, which is due on April 1st. However, questions regarding traffic stops and driving while impaired currently have legislators deadlocked.

“We are extremely close. We have reached a little bit of an impasse right now, and it has to do with impaired driving.” State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said at a press conference on Tuesday. 

No One Wants To Arrest Unlawfully

Law enforcement agencies have expressed concerns that the classification of driving under the influence of cannabis as a traffic infraction would send the wrong message to the public and encourage New Yorkers to drive while intoxicated from marijuana use. The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York maintains that driving while on cannabis should remain a misdemeanor crime.

In its current form, roadside marijuana testing cannot determine how recently a driver may have used cannabis, adding an extra layer of difficulty in policing motorists who use marijuana.

Despite the impasse, Stewart-Cousins remains optimistic about the bill’s eventual passing, saying

“It’s a matter of when, not if.” 

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

Originally, Gov. Cuomo included his own version of the legislation in his annual budget request, though it was omitted Monday in a Senate resolution. It seems state legislators would prefer to handle the marijuana issue outside of budget negotiations. 

New York’s Third Opportunity to Legalize Marijuana


This would be New York’s third chance at passing marijuana reform legislation—the last two failed attempts took place as part of Cuomo’s executive budget process. The governor made his eagerness to see legalization finally come to fruition clear with a football analogy, saying, “This is not about getting in the red zone anymore; we have to get over the goal line this time. We need the seven points.”

Past efforts from the governor to bring pot to New York have flopped largely due to disagreements within his own party regarding equity and revenue spending. While state lawmakers sought to spend large swaths of new tax revenue on supporting minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition, Gov. Cuomo’s previous plans allocated the majority of funds under state control.  

Gov. Cuomo isn’t the only one ready for recreational marijuana to hit the state. According to a recent survey conducted by Sienna College, New Yorkers overwhelmingly support legalizing cannabis for adult use. The poll found that 59% of those surveyed were in favor of legalization, while only a meager 33% were opposed. Last year, in the neighboring state of New Jersey, voters decisively cast ballots in favor of a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis, allowing lawmakers to set up the necessary regulatory systems for a recreational market.   

During his Monday press conference, Cuomo said, “I think this should’ve passed years ago. I think too many people have been imprisoned, incarcerated, and punished. Too many of those people are Black, Latino, and poor. It’s exaggerated the injustice of the justice system.”

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