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Deal near on legalizing recreational marijuana, officials say

New York state Senate members meet in the

New York state Senate members meet in the Senate Chamber at the state Capitol in Albany, Jan. 8, 2020. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY — New York lawmakers are nearing agreement on legalizing recreational marijuana and could act soon rather than waiting on the state budget, officials said Friday.

If finalized, lawmakers could vote on a bill as soon as next week, officials said.

The disagreements among Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the state Senate and state Assembly largely have been how to allocate tax revenue generated by marijuana sales rather than simple opposition to legalization.

"I am very optimistic about completing negotiations and having a three-way agreed-upon bill to legalize marijuana before the budget," said Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), the Senate’s point person on the legislation. "Discussions are ongoing and we’re very close."

Historically, Cuomo has leveraged the state budget deadline, April 1, to include all sorts of policy issues into negotiations. That lawmakers might act prior is in part because Cuomo’s embattled status gives them a better hand this year. The governor is facing an impeachment inquiry, sexual harassment allegations, a federal investigation of his handling of COVID-19 and nursing homes, and growing calls for his resignation.

The governor has said he won’t resign and vowed that he can still be effective. On Friday afternoon, he pointed to the marijuana legislation as one example.

"We’ve been working on a marijuana bill and had a number of conversations with members," Cuomo said, referring to state legislators. "The staff is working on it over this weekend. We’ve been making good progress."

In February, Cuomo moved toward progressives’ view on how to spend marijuana revenue, saying he’d earmark some of the tax proceeds for job placement, mental health and housing services. Previously, he wanted a large portion to go to the state’s general fund, which he controls.

Community groups and legislators saw it as a significant step but still vague. Since then, lawmakers have been progressing on negotiations, sources said.

. Legislators said a significant chunk of the money should go to communities hardest hit by unequal enforcement of marijuana laws.

The governor in January said he’d back creation of a $100 million "social equity fund" and in February he moved toward advocates’ view by fleshing his idea out more. He said the funds would go to a dozen initiatives, including community banking, drug treatment and literacy services. Cuomo estimates that marijuana taxes could generate $350 million annually for the state.

The bill backed by Krueger and Assemb. Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) would earmark 50% of marijuana revenue to a "community grants reinvestment fund," 25% to drug treatment and 25% to education.

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