Legalized Marijuana in New York: This Could Be the Year

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo renewed his vow on Wednesday to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in New York, proposing a new office to regulate the market and licensing opportunities for communities most affected by the disparate enforcement of drug laws.

“I think this should have been passed years ago,” Mr. Cuomo said during a video briefing. “This is a year where we do need the funding and a lot of New Yorkers are struggling. This year will give us the momentum to get it over the goal line.”

The pledge marks Mr. Cuomo’s third attempt at legalizing marijuana; similar efforts have unraveled each year since Democrats took control of the Legislature in 2019, mostly as a result of disagreements over how to distribute the lucrative tax dollars from marijuana sales and the licenses to sell the drug.

But the push to legalize marijuana is likely to have far greater momentum in 2021, given the profound fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

For gamblers, New York has often been in the shadow of New Jersey, where Atlantic City dominated the East Coast casino market for decades, and where, more recently, mobile wagering interfaces have allowed gamblers to place sports bets anywhere inside the state.

New York legalized sports betting in 2019, but only on the premises of state-licensed casinos. That deal prompted frustration from supporters of such betting, including State Senator Joseph Addabbo, the chairman of the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, who sees the expansion of gaming as a big revenue winner.

“We’re that disabled car in the right lane watching the other cars fly past us,” Mr. Addabbo said on Wednesday. “New Jersey is taking our money.”

But that could change with new support from Mr. Cuomo, who announced on Wednesday that he planned to push for mobile betting in his State of the State address next week.

New York became a national laughingstock when election officials last year took longer than almost any other state to count a deluge of absentee ballots prompted by the pandemic, delaying results in some key races for weeks.

This year, lawmakers could spearhead efforts to reform the Board of Elections and may take up legislation to speed up the counting process. Proposals have also been floated to improve voter registration. And come November, voters may get to vote on a constitutional amendment to expand absentee voting to all voters permanently, as opposed to just during a public health emergency.

Another hot-button issue surrounds the aftermath of the mass protests last summer following George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. They propelled the Legislature to approve a bevy of changes to police practices, including a ban on the use of chokeholds and the repeal of a decades-old law that kept police disciplinary records secret. (Even so, police departments are still finding ways to shield those records.)

The day, usually a pompous affair when the halls of the State Capitol are packed with lobbyists and activists, was far more subdued this year.

With the Capitol closed to the public, the stately building was eerily quiet and empty, with vacant offices and a skeleton crew of staff and security personnel. Most lawmakers participated remotely, sworn in from their living rooms or district offices.

Carl E. Heastie, the speaker of the Assembly, and Ms. Stewart-Cousins were re-elected to their posts in mostly empty chambers on Wednesday. Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, on Monday will lay out his 2021 agenda in the State of the State address, which he said would be held virtually.

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