Cuomo to renew push for legal marijuana (and CBD in food), aide says


Legal marijuana in New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to reintroduce a plan to legalize recreational marijuana in 2021. (AP Photo)The Plain Dealer

Albany, N.Y. — After failing for the past two years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is prepared to call again for the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana in New York in 2021.

Cuomo also wants to issue new rules that would govern how CBD (cannabidiol), an extract from the cannabis plant, is manufactured and sold in the state, including in food and drinks. Current directives from state regulators prohibit CBD in food and beverages, though enforcement has been uneven.

According to a report at Marijuana Moment, which tracks marijuana-related issues around the country, Bernabe said the legislation the governor will introduce “will serve as a ‘model’ for other states, prioritizing social equity and economic development.”

Bernabe told Culver the governor wants the legalization included in the state’s 2021-2022 budget, which takes effect April 1. New York currently has a legal medical marijuana program, but not for recreational use.

Bernabe and Culver discussed the new push for legalization in the context of pressure from neighboring states. Massachusetts and Vermont currently have legalized recreational use, and efforts are underway in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Cuomo called for legalization of recreational marijuana in both 2019 and 2020, but it failed in both years due to disagreements over such issues as ensuring fairness for minority communities affected by enforcement of drug laws, how to spend the tax revenues, and whether to allow local communities to opt out.

Instead, New York in 2019 passed a marijuana decriminalization law, which increases the amount of pot you can possess without facing criminal charges and expunges the records of those previously convicted of low level drug charges.

Late last year, Cuomo signed a Hemp Extract bill into law. It creates a framework for what are likely the country’s strictest standards for growing and processing hemp, a species of cannabis that produces just trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound found in its relative, marijuana.

But the specific rules and licensing procedures under that framework have not yet been issued, which has left the state’s cannabis industry concerned about how it can continue.

Licenses had been set to expire on Oct. 31. Then, last week, the industry got some relief with the extension of New York’s Hemp Pilot program. That extends the licenses for the state’s roughly 700 growers into next year.

When signing the Hemp Extracts bill in December, Cuomo noted it did not cover the inclusion of CBD in beverages or food items like gummi candy. That was supposed to be addressed in a “hemp summit” Cuomo hoped to convene in the spring, which was postponed by the Covid 19 pandemic.

But Bernabe told Culver the state is working on rules governing CBD in food and beverages, which has also been confirmed to by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, a Binghamton Democrat who sponsored the Hemp Extracts bill.

“We’re leaning towards doing food and beverages,” Bernabe told Culver. He said rules under consideration would likely limit products to no more than 25 miligrams per serving. He suggested New York’s regulations would “start low and go slow.”

Canopy Growth, where Culver serves as vice president for government and stakeholder relations, is a Canadian company that has proposed a major hemp processing facility near Binghamton. One of the major investors in Canopy Growth is Constellation Brands, a Rochester-area company that is one of the biggest alcoholic beverage companies in the world.