Will legal marijuana go up in smoke before June adjournment?

Jun 10, 2019

The annual end-of-session crush has started in Albany, with far more legislation pending than there is time or desire to pass. One bill that may make it out of the morass and pass is legislation to legalize adult use of pot, according to one of its most visible supporters.

The bill has been controversial since the idea surfaced. However, this year there seemed to be enough support for passage.

The problem is in the details. They range from the issue of clearing criminal records from past pot convictions to a lot of law enforcement opposition to concern that marijuana can be a "gateway" drug toward harder drugs.

Probably the most visible legislative figure backing legalization is Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

"Everybody has a conversation on the topic and I and my colleagues, particularly from the black, Puerto Rican Legislative and Asian Caucus, are standing in the gap for the hundreds of thousands of black people who have always caught the brunt of this product, that's now getting ready to become a new industry," said Peoples-Stokes. "So we have to make sure that they're protected throughout this process."

The Buffalo Democrat said the same uncertainty exists in her district.

"It's mixed. I would say the vast majority think it's the right thing to do. There still are some people who are unconvinced that it's not a gateway drug. And so there's still that issue," Peoples-Stokes said. "But, by and large, most people are very supportive."

There are hundreds of thousands of people with pot records. The majority leader said cleaning those records will allow those people all sorts of licenses and permissions and even to be able to live in public housing, which they can't now.

Peoples-Stokes said she expects everything to fall into place this week or next for legalization. She said the end of the session is a cavalcade of issues falling into place at the last minute.

"They really do happen that way, particularly because of the issues that are on hand," she said. "It's not just marijuana now, it's also rent regulation. They do get long and tedious, but we will get through as we always have. In the end, we'll do something that's in the best interest of the people."

Important bills not quite in place also include a capital spending bill for roads and bridges, which includes $100 million for the Metro Rail renovation. Peoples-Stokes expects it to pass.

There remains the possibility of what Albany calls "the Big Ugly," legislation that combines every issue into one bill for passage.

In addition, the Assembly plans to vote this week on legislation authorizing driver's licenses for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally. The measure is expected to pass the Assembly, but continues to face challenges in the Senate, where Democrats hold a smaller majority.