The head of New York’s Democratic Party said on Thursday that if the state Senate votes on a marijuana legalization bill, his party’s lawmakers run the risk of alienating voters and losing reelection next year.
Jay Jacobs, the state party chairman, claimed that several “far progressive” measures, including cannabis legalization, lack popularity in certain areas across the state such as Long Island and upstate New York. He cautioned lawmakers against putting the issue to a vote, arguing that voters would “throw us out of office.”
“It could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he told Newsday.
Polling doesn’t support that conclusion, though. According to a March 2019 survey from Quinnipiac, 65 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of allowing adults to legally possess cannabis for personal use. That includes 63 percent of respondents in upstate New York and 65 percent of those living in the suburbs. Sixty-six percent of independents statewide also back ending marijuana prohibition.
Additionally, 59 percent of voters said they support letting marijuana businesses sell marijuana in their own communities. Sixty percent of upstate residents and 54 percent of suburbanites said the same.
That puts support for a legal cannabis system higher than the approval ratings in the very same survey for elected Democrats such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the speaker of the state Assembly and the state Senate majority leader.
Jacobs’s comments come at a time when advocates are struggling to advance a legalization bill that is just two votes shy of being passable in the Senate, according to an analysis by The Democrat & Chronicle.
Despite Cuomo including legalization in his budget proposal and pressuring lawmakers to get the legislation to his desk this session, the governor said earlier this week that the bill will not pass “because the Senate doesn’t have the votes.”
Andrew Cuomo live on @WAMCNews now.
First question: Why can’t marijuana pass this session?
“Because the Senate doesn’t have the votes, in a brief sentence,” Cuomo says.
— Jon Campbell (@JonCampbellGAN) June 6, 2019
He doubled down on blaming the chamber for the stalled legislation in an interview with WAMC on Friday, saying that even if he “kept the Senate there for the next ten years, they couldn’t pass marijuana.”
That said, it’s possible that the legislation will be inserted into an omnibus spending bill in the closing hours of the session.
There’s also a chance that Senate Democrats will agree to a plan to bring the bill up for a full floor vote after they meet to discuss legalization during a caucus conference next week.
Source tells Spectrum News that Senate Dems will conference marijuana legalization bill next week and could face a full floor vote soon. More to come at 5 on @SPECNewsAlbany
— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) June 5, 2019
Cuomo’s statements about the vote deficit that legalization faces in the Senate, and his reluctance to more forcefully press lawmakers from his party on the issue have frustrated its backers in the legislature. Sen. Liz Krueger (D) said on Thursday that if “we don’t get the support of the governor, I will not be able to convince my colleagues—some of whom are on the fence—that this is a good vote for them because this is a controversial issue.”
“If they believe this is something the governor will follow through on and commit to and back us up on, I believe we can bring it across the finish line,” she said.
While the state Democratic chair might not hold the same sway as Cuomo, his statements dismissing legalization legislation are likely to draw similar criticism, especially considering that the party adopted a resolution in support of regulating cannabis last year.
Interestingly, while the Democratic official warned against moving forward on legalization in a state where the issue enjoys majority support, the incoming chair of New York’s Republican Party said last week that he’s open-minded about marijuana reform.
“I don’t have the same hostility toward the legalization of marijuana as maybe my predecessors did,” Nick Langworthy said. However, he added that Republicans “should not be trying to lead the pack in the field of legalization of marijuana.”
With fewer than 10 working days left in the current legislative session, pressure to pass the reform bill is reaching a boiling point.
Frustration over the legislature’s inability to rally support for the legislation has escalated in the days since lawmakers in Illinois sent a legalization bill to the governor’s desk. A Delaware House committee also approved legalization on Wednesday.
Neighboring New Jersey, meanwhile, has thrown in the towel on legalizing cannabis this year. Instead, leading lawmakers said the issue will be decided by voters in the form of a referendum on the 2020 ballot.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.