ALBANY — An influential Democratic state senator who helped slow down last year's push for legal marijuana said Thursday he will back the legislation this year — but only if at least 25 percent of the revenue goes to substance abuse treatment.
The statement of conditional support from Sen. Pete Harckham, D-Peekskill, representing a moderate, suburban constituency, suggests there is again significant support for an end to cannabis prohibition, though advocates are not all working from the same playbook.
Harckham is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. As such, he is expected to have a voice in the discussions that will end up in the construction of Democratic lawmakers' response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's call to give the green light to the regulated commercial sale of pot.
Cuomo, a year ago, predicted he would get legal marijuana through the Legislature in the first 100 days of the year. That didn't happen, largely because many suburban lawmakers had reservations about his proposal and were urged by police executives to withhold support.
Harckham said the state has not been devoting sufficient financial help to treatment agencies.
"In traveling across the state, I observed we are drastically underfunding substance abuse disorders treatment, mental health treament and the opiod crisis," the senator told CNHI.
He threw his support to what appears to be the strongest competing legislation to Cuomo's initiative, a bill put forward by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples Stokes, D-Buffalo.
Cuomo's proposal, said Freeman Klopott, spokesman for the Division of the Budget, "provides flexibility so as future data and research becomes available and new social needs are identified resources can be targeted and applied in the most impractical way possible."
He also said the governor's measure "ensures that prevention and treatment, public health and safety and social and economic equity initiatives all receive robust funding."
Cuomo's proposal is tucked into the proposed state budget.
The governor's approach sets the stage for climactic decisions to be made on legal weed in the final days of March. New York, by law, is required to have a state budget in place by April 1.
Unlicensed marijuana cultivation in New York would remain unlawful under Cuomo's plan, while Krueger has said she favors allowing New Yorkers to grow a small number of plants for personal consumption.
Cuomo's plan would empower county governments to keep marijuana shops outside their jurisdictions.
County leaders are scheduled to meet near Albany next week for an annual conference hosted by the New York State Association of Counties. "We will be discussing this and getting feedback from the various county officials," said Mark LaVigne, the association's deputy director.
The Cuomo administration's projections for marijuana revenue would be impacted if product prices, along with the taxes, leave many consumers to choose the black market for their cannabis.
California lawmakers are now revisiting its state taxes on marijuana, with some suggesting a temporary cut is needed to support a legal market struggling in the face of illicit competition.
Cuomo proposes a 20 percent tax on cannabis sales in New York.
The Los Angeles Times reported that California legislators are weighing a measure that would slice taxes there from 15 percent to 11 percent for three years while also suspending a tax on cultivation of pot.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is also reportedly shaking up the state agencies that regulate marijuana after revenue collections failed to reach targets.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com .