New York state legislature has one week to collect enough votes for legalization

Jun 13, 2019

Manhattan-based state Senator Liz Krueger is facing a week of heavy-duty lobbying for her bill that would legalize recreational marijuana use in New York.

On June 19, all of the bills that have survived the legislative process will go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for either passage or a veto, and both Cuomo and Krueger are worried that they don’t have the votes.

“I’ve been consistent from the very beginning: This is a hard lift,” Krueger told the USA Today Network.

Although thirty Senate Democrats have pledged their support for the bill, the measure must have thirty-two votes minimum to pass out of the state Senate without outside support.

While the majority of urban New York is in favor of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, the bill has faced major opposition from its more suburban areas of the Empire State. These neighborhoods include Long Island, Westchester County, and even Brooklyn.

Finger pointing, vote garnering, and a quick legislative lesson

The New York state Senate has 63 senators. In order for a bill to pass out of the Senate, a bill must have a minimum of thirty-two votes. So far, 30 Senate Democrats are in favor of legalization.

As the Democrats in New York currently enjoy a majority in the Senate, they can pass the bill without Republican support; however, they will need every single Democrat on board with the measure, and the finger-pointing has already started as to why that may not happen this legislative session.

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Gov. Cuomo has said that passing a marijuana measure this legislative session is simply “not feasible” this year, arguing that even Krueger has acknowledged that there weren’t enough votes lined up with less than a week to go in the 2019 legislative calendar year.

Last week, Gov. Cuomo sat down for an interview with a local news station, WNYC-FM, and stated that with only 10 days left in the session, at that time, the bill wasn’t going to measure up.

“I am saying I don’t think as we sit here with 10 days left, the Senate has the votes. The reason I say that is because they said they don’t have the votes, so I am just taking them at their word.”

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Krueger countered this argument, saying that the lack of enthusiastic support from Cuomo may influence the votes of her more indecisive Democratic counterparts in the state legislature.

If we don’t get the support of the governor, I will not be able to convince my colleagues⸺some of whom are on the fence⸺that this is a good vote for them because this is a controversial issue. If they believe this is something the governor will follow through on and commit to and back us up on, I believe we can bring it across the finish line. -Senator Liz Kreuger

Meanwhile, the measure is facing a bit more of a downhill battle in the State Assembly, where Democrats control more than 100 of the 150 seats, making the bill’s passage much more likely.

Across the river, suburbanites oppose legalization

Kreuger’s bill would legalize, tax, and regulate the recreational use of cannabis in New York. Many legislative members of the Empire State Senate agree with the measure.

“Weighing the benefits of the costs, I would vote for this bill with a call for greater analysis of street safety and impaired driving implications," Sen. Andrew Gounardes said.

“If It’s done the right way, I’m supportive,” Sen. James Skoufis said, “I know for some people the politics is complicated or they are uncomfortable with the issue itself. I don’t have those problems.”

Meanwhile, across the Hudson River, certain legislators are dragging their heels on the issue. Sen. Pete Harckham of South Salem, for example, is concerned the legislation does not address law enforcement issues, nor how education surrounding marijuana use will be handled.

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“This is something we have been telling our kids is illegal and bad for them, and now we’re making it legal,” Harckham said. “We need public-service education money to let folks know about the impacts and effects of marijuana.

Senator Shelley Mayer of Yonkers is feeling more pressure from her pro-prohibition constituents, saying that the “sentiment of (her) district” reflects her current reservations about legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.

“I have been opposed to it,” Mayer said. “I will wait to see how my conference comes to a consensus, but I have been opposed to it.”

New Yorkers only have one more week to wait and see if the Senate can rally a sufficient number of votes. Come June 19, the Empire State may be one more measure closer to the end of marijuana prohibition in their state.

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