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The Race To Legalize in the East

The race to legalize in New York accelerated on January 15, 2019, as Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out his vision for an expanded industry. Back in December, Governor Cuomo named legalization one of his priorities for the first 100 days of 2019. This week, he made good on that promise, unveiling plans for state regulated market that would generate around $300 million in revenue by the third year of operation.  That money would be earmarked for multiple uses including running the program, traffic safety, small business development and fighting substance abuse.

Under Cuomo’s plan cities and counties can affirmatively opt-out of the retail industry.  Though similar to legislation currently under review in New York, Cuomo’s bill is noticeably devoid of details around equity and social justice.  Only time will tell if New York’s Governor will be able to quickly negotiate with state legislators for swift passage or become mired in the same gridlock facing New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

Governor Murphy campaigned on a plan of adult use legalization, but the measure has stalled in the face of legislator opposition. Since NJ state Senator Nicholas Scutari first introduced adult-use marijuana legislation in 2014, the push for legalization has taken on multiple forms and an array of topics, including home growing and social justice. Now, questions remain about the emerging market, including the final cap on the number of dispensaries, an agreed upon taxation rate and equity measures to ensure that people of color disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs have access to the industry’s economic potential.  

New Jersey hosts more than 100 million tourists and visitors every year, and beating New York to the legal cannabis market could position the state as the frontrunner of the eastern seaboard. However, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is known for his dealmaking skills, and his stated commitment to legalization is a signal that the Empire state will fast-track the process.

Whichever state wins, legalization will be a much needed injection into the region’s nascent cannabis industry.  While adult-use cannabis markets operate in 5 west-coast states, the northeast lags behind. Massachusetts launched its retail Marijuana businesses in November 2018, but Maine and Vermont, which have both passed adult-use legalization measures, are both still working on tax and regulation issues.

Which state do you believe will be the first to legalize?

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