Cuomo signs letter seeking federal pot cooperation

Cuomo

 ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has joined a group of governors in urging congressional leaders to pass legislation aimed at making the federal government "a partner rather than an impediment" for states that have legalized marijuana.

Cuomo, a Democrat, was one of 12 governors to sign the June 4 letter to the four most powerful members of the U.S. Senate and House, advocating for the passage of a measure known as the States Act as well as banking legislation that would allow financial institutions to process transactions with marijuana businesses in states with legal cannabis.

"Companies in our states are forced to operate on a cash-only basis that creates unnecessary burdens and risks for consumers, businesses, employees and governments," the governors stated in the letter.

All of the governors who signed the letters represent states that have authorized medical marijuana. Of the 12, Cuomo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert represent states that so far have not allowed recreational marijuana sales.

The letter contended that the authority of states to set their own laws and "respond to the evolving needs and attitudes of their citizens" should be considered apart from the debate over the ongoing federal prohibition on marijuana.

"The States Act is a logical step for Congress because it honors state action by codifying protection at the federal level for those businesses and consumers operating in accordance with state law," the letter said.

In an interview with an Albany public radio show Thursday, Cuomo said the New York legislation that would allow recreational cannabis remains snarled in the Democratic-controlled state Senate, which lacks sufficient votes for passage.

Cuomo said he will sign the marijuana legislation if it is approved by lawmakers.

But one of the leading sponsors, Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, later told CNHI that she questions the governor's commitment to the issue.

"I'm very disappointed," Krueger said.

"If the governor wanted to move the marijuana bill, he would be taking an active role in negotiating this bill three way (with the Senate, Assembly and his office) and would be asking senators to assist him in getting this done," she said. "And we're hearing that just the opposite is happening."

Opposition to the marijuana bill has been heating up from the state Parent-Teacher Association, police chiefs, education leaders and the Medical Society of the State of New York, the lobby for doctors.

Kyle Belokopitsky, director of the state PTA, said her members barraged lawmakers this week with more than 10,000 emails, urging them to reject the bill.

"I don't understand why some people think this is such a good idea when all the statistics show that legalizing marijuana would be a danger to children," Belokopitsky said in an interview.

The opposition to legal weed in New York has been spearheaded by a national group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Its senior policy adviser, Luke Niforatos, said Cuomo has "encountered more resistance to this than he expected to. He went into this thinking it was super popular and everyone was going to get on board."

Niforatos also said his group opposes the federal legislation now being backed by Cuomo.

He argued that the measure that would allow banks to have relationships with marijuana companies would give the firms access to "millions and millions of dollars from Wall Street and allow them to continue their predatory policies of targeting minority communities and wreak havoc on public health."

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.