Press Release: Protecting the Right to Gender Identity and Expression – “GENDA” Passes Assembly and Senate

Debating GENDA on the floor of the Assembly, January 15, 2019

The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (“GENDA,” A747/S1047), which protects transgender people under the State Human Rights Law and the hate crimes law, was approved by the Assembly and Senate today and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor. The bill also protects people who are gender non-conforming (non-binary) and other gender identities or expressions.

“Today is an historic day,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Assembly sponsor of GENDA. “The Assembly has passed the bill 11 times, but the Senate’s Republican Majority refused to let the bill have a floor vote. Today, the new Democratic Majority has joined us in protecting the rights of New Yorkers regardless of gender identity or expression. I look forward to Governor Cuomo signing GENDA into law.”

“The passage of GENDA – 16 years in the making – will codify our progressive reputation and ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation are treated equally and with respect,” said Senator Brad Hoylman, Senate sponsor of GENDA. “As the Trump administration continues to roll back protections for LGBTQ Americans, today’s victory sends a strong message to LGBTQ people across New York: you are loved, understood, and protected by your state government. We will not let you down.”

Transgender and non-binary people – whose gender identity, appearance, behavior or expression differs from their genetic sex at birth – face discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and other areas of life, and they are particularly vulnerable to hate crimes.

“The Assembly has now passed GENDA for eleven consecutive years under the leadership of Assemblymember Gottfried, and I’m grateful for his persistence,” said Hoylman. “After years of Republican opposition, I am proud to be part of a Democratic Majority that works to safeguard the rights of all New Yorkers. Thank you to Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and my colleagues in the Democratic Majority for leading the charge to protect our LGBTQ community. I am also deeply grateful to the previous sponsors of GENDA in the Senate, Senators Tom Duane and Daniel Squadron. ”

“Governor Cuomo took strong action in 2015 when he issued state-wide regulations under the State’s Human Rights Law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity and transgender status,” said Gottfried. “But adding gender expression and identity to the Human Rights Law and the Penal Law will give the community proper recognition, protection against repeal of these regulations, and add protection under the State’s Hate Crimes Law. With an administration of bullies in Washington, New York is standing up for common sense, fairness, and justice.”

“The Trump Administration’s attack on the rights of transgender people, as well as taking steps to literally erase our existence in federal guidelines and legislation, has made the passage of a state transgender civil rights bill imperative,” said Juli Grey-Owens, Executive Director of Gender Equality New York. “It is time to pass explicit and permanent protections from discrimination against transgender and non-binary New Yorkers. Further, it is time to fight transphobia and send the strong message that New York State supports the free expression of gender identity and the right to be our authentic selves.”

“Today our state has taken a powerful step forward in the journey towards equality and justice. New York stands for vision and opportunity, embracing diversity and the potential we each have to thrive. With the passage of GENDA we are a safer place for more of us to achieve our potential and live our lives with greater security and freedom,” said Gabriel Blau, Chair of Equality New York. “Transgender people, especially those of color, are among the most attacked in our nation, facing discrimination, verbal and physical attacks, and murder. Today’s passage of GENDA will go down in history as a major milestone on our journey, a tribute to the people whose work over decades has led to a safer and stronger New York.”

“I have been advocating to get GENDA passed for over 15 years,” said Kiera St. James, Executive Director, New York Transgender Advocacy Group. “Assembly Member Gottfried and Senator Hoylman have worked tirelessly year after year to get it passed, never giving up. I am so grateful to celebrate this win with them and my Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) community. Passing GENDA will change the lives of so many TGNC New Yorkers because they are finally given the protections they deserve.”

“Today is a landmark day for transgender and gender non-confirming citizens of the State of New York,” said Judy Sennesh, Board Chair of PFLAG NYC and founder of PFLAG NYC’s Trans Families Project. “PFLAG NYC families and allies are immensely grateful for the many years of hard work and persistence of GENDA’s sponsors and all legislators who’ve supported this incredibly important bill from the beginning. My son and the children of so many families I’ve come to know over the years are now protected by law in our state, and can live, work, and learn with the civil rights and dignity they deserve. We are all delighted and relieved and want everyone to remember that without a “redesigned” State Senate this couldn’t have happened. Every vote counts!”

“In the face of the Trump administration’s constant attacks on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people, passing GENDA could not come at a more critical time,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “We applaud Assembly Member Gottfried and Senator Hoylman for shepherding this bill through to ensure that all New Yorkers are protected. Albany is sending a clear message that the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers are not up for debate and will not be at risk of being thrown by the wayside with changing political winds.”

“That the Senate and Assembly have passed GENDA at the very beginning of this session fills me with a joy and gratitude that’s hard to fully express,” said Kristen Browde, President of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater NY; Co-Chair of the National Trans Bar Association; and Director of Trans United and Equality NY. “It’s a sign of immense progress in protecting all New Yorkers that because of the blue wave that flipped the Senate and the tireless work of Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried – as well as the full support of Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Carl Heastie, we’re now seeing the dawn of an era in which all New Yorkers can feel protected under our law against the rollbacks and right-wing attacks from DC. As a proud transgender New Yorker, I have the deepest gratitude for all those who got us here. Governor Cuomo – we can’t wait for you to sign this bill!”

“I was in the room when GENDA was born, in Albany, in December 2002, with Joanne Prinzivalli and Charles King,” said Melissa Sklarz. “But the real beginning goes back to 1998, when Sylvia Rivera called a trans community meeting to address gay and lesbian civil rights language that excluded gender identity and expression. The trans community of New York owes a debt to hundreds of people, hundreds of meetings, hundreds of community groups, and 25 different strategies, to arrive at this special moment. I personally wish to thank Senators Tom Duane, Dan Squadron, Brad Hoylman, David Paterson, and Assemblymember Dick Gottfried for fighting this political battle in Albany for the last 20 years.”

GENDA is supported by New York State United Teachers, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Housing Works, dozens of LGBT organizations, a broad range of religious and faith communities, the New York City Bar Association, and numerous labor unions including the NYS AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, AFSCME District Council 37, United Auto Workers Region 9A Metro NYC CAP Council, CSEA, Screen Actors Guild, and Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.

###

WAMC (Audio) – Many Unanswered Questions On Marijuana Legalization In NY

AUDIO HERE

By Karen Dewitt, January 5, 2019

Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to release details of a plan to make recreational marijuana legal in New York when he outlines his state budget proposal later this month. But the Democrat concedes that there are many unanswered questions about how to proceed.

Cuomo, who less than two years ago called marijuana a “gateway drug,” says he still has some questions and concerns about legalizing the drug for recreational use. But he says he’s working with a panel of experts, including law enforcement, and health officials who have determined it can be done safely, and that the “benefits outweigh the risks.” The governor says his position has also been influenced by the neighboring states of Massachusetts and New Jersey that have legalized marijuana or are in the process of doing so.

“You’ll just force people to drive to Massachusetts or drive to New Jersey and then come back into this state and use it in this state,” Cuomo said.

The governor says he’s working out a lot of the details right now on how to implement the program, including what the age requirement should be to gain access to the drug.

“How old, how many stores, how much marijuana do you sell to a person, what are the tax revenues?” Cuomo said. “The devil is in the details.”

There are many ideas on how to best use the revenue from the sale of marijuana, including one to help fix New York City’s subways.  

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes is sponsoring a bill she says would help right the wrongs created by the decades of marijuana prohibition. Peoples-Stokes, who is African American, says arrests for using the drug have fallen disproportionately on black and Hispanic New Yorkers, while white residents have rarely been punished. Her measure, which is sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger in the state Senate, would dedicate 50 percent of revenues raised from taxing marijuana sales to a Community Grant Reinvestment Fund, directed at neighborhoods most affected by prohibition. It would fund programs like job training, afterschool activities and reentry programs for people coming out of prison. Peoples-Stokes says it’s very important that legalization of marijuana include reparations for communities most negatively affected.

“It’s critical,” Peoples-Stokes said.

She says it will save the state money because fewer people will be in prison on minor drug charges, and will instead be able to be home to take care of their families. 

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who chairs the Health Committee, sponsored the law to implement medical marijuana in New York a few years ago, and supports legalizing the recreational use of the drug.  

Gottfried says he does not necessarily back dedicating sales tax revenues to a specific fund, though he does want to end inequities in the state’s criminal justice system over past enforcement of the prohibition of the drug.  

“One reasons why I hate the term ‘recreational use’, is that this is not about people having a good time at parties,” said Gottfried. “This is about undoing and preventing the damage that our prohibition system does.”

Gottfried says he’d like to see past criminal records for marijuana related convictions erased.   

The Assemblyman credits Cuomo and his staff for reaching out to supporters, and stakeholders, like marijuana growing businesses to get ideas on how to craft the bill. Gottfried says he does not want to see sales and distribution of the drug come under the control of big businesses, with existing distributors of medical marijuana having a greater influence than smaller startup companies.

And he also supports allowing New Yorkers to grow a limited amount of marijuana at home.

“In some product areas we do allow home production. If you want to brew beer or wine in your basement you’re free to do that,” Gottfried said. “Just don’t try to sell it to your neighbors.”

Not everyone is in favor of legalizing marijuana in New York.

The New York State Association of County Health Officials issued a statement, saying they have “serious concerns” and urging that legalization be approached “thoughtfully and with extreme caution.” 

The county officials say no one under 21 should be permitted to use the drug, and any new rules should fall under the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act to ensure children, and other vulnerable populations are not exposed to marijuana use or secondhand smoke. The group also wants toxicology studies conducted to set standards for impaired driving under the use of the drug. The health officials say they are already dealing with the devastation from opioid abuse, and do not want to see the state inadvertently create another public health crisis.

Buffalo News: Key questions remain in New York’s road to legal marijuana

By Tom Precious, 12/25/18

ALBANY – New York officials are moving ahead with efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use, but they are running into a barrage of complicated issues that must be resolved if their end-of-March timetable to act is to be realized.

Among just a handful of lingering questions to be answered: how much will the state tax the sales and where does the money go; who gets to grow, distribute and sell the drug; will homegrown pot be legal; will it be available in a variety of forms, including things like candy bars; how many people will have their marijuana arrest and conviction records expunged and what will the state do to deter a rise in driving while impaired situations?

With Democrats who support marijuana legalization efforts now in control of the executive branch and both houses of the legislative branch, there is no doubt that some sort of major change in the drug law is coming in 2019.

The question is: How extensive will it be?

“It has to be done right. There are a lot of questions. There are a lot of pitfalls,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during a radio interview last week.

In a speech outlining his top priorities for the first 100 days of the 2019 session that starts next month, Cuomo put marijuana legalization on the list, saying it should be made legal “once and for all.” It’s a sharp turn from only a year or so ago when he talked against legalization of marijuana because it was a potentially dangerous “gateway drug.”

On Friday, during a brief stop in Buffalo, Cuomo offered up just some of the questions his administration is considering on the topic. “How old, how many stores, how much can (a retailer) sell to a person, what are the tax revenues?” he said.

The governor said the state is working with New Jersey, which is preparing to legalize marijuana use, and Massachusetts to ensure there is some uniformity in tax rates so that New Yorkers don’t simply drive across the borders to get cheaper – via lower-taxed – pot.

Behind the scenes in advance of Cuomo laying out his legalization plan more fully in his January state budget presentation, there is a flurry of studying, debating and lobbying underway by drug legalization advocates, health experts, law enforcement officials, local governments and the existing 10 firms registered by the state to provide medical marijuana products to certified patients.

Some involved in the discussions believe Cuomo will try to take a more measured approach, unlike when California legalized marijuana in what some in New York call the Wild West approach to legalization. It is a route he took when he ended his opposition to medical marijuana products and approved such use, but under what at the time was the nation’s strictest medical pot laws.

Local health officials’ concerns

Last week, the New York State Association of County Health Officials, which represents 58 local health departments in the state, raised what it called “serious concerns” about the push to legalize adult marijuana use.

The group urged that sales be banned to those under age 21, that the state spend money for research efforts to identify “unforeseen” effects by legalization of the drug, that marijuana be added to the Clean Indoor Air Act to ensure its use is banned in certain areas and that localities be given additional state money to help fund expanded sales enforcement and public health activities associated with legalizing the drug’s use.

“As public health officials, we must articulate our steadfast opposition to legalization of an adult-use regulated marijuana policy. From our viewpoint of community health and wellness, there are simply too many associated risks including unintentional exposures in children, increased motor vehicle accidents, future addiction to other substances and adverse cardiac and respiratory effects,” said Paul Pettit, president of the group and the public health director for the Genesee and Orleans county health departments.

One of the chief battles underway in discussions between the state and various outside stakeholders is what kind of production, distribution and retail system will be created. In the state’s medical marijuana program, there are 10 state-authorized “registered organizations” mandated to operate in what is known as a “vertical integration approach.” That means they handle all aspects of the system, from growing the plants to running the dispensing sites for qualified patients.

Some want no integration at all, modeled after how the state’s alcohol laws are structured so that there are different companies that produce, distribute and then sell to retailers.

A battle over who gets to grow, sell pot

The firms with those state medical marijuana licenses believe they are best positioned to quickly add recreational marijuana products to their portfolio when New York legalizes pot. If they are excluded, one executive said, the state could have to wait as long as two years before state-sanctioned marijuana products could hit the retail market.

“I’m hopeful that we don’t err by kind of running full-tilt into a California-style adult use regulated system where there are regulatory challenges in keeping all the cats herded,” said Jeremy Unruh, director of regulatory and external affairs at PharmaCannis, one of the 10 medical marijuana companies operating in New York. The firm grows marijuana plants at a facility in Orange County and dispenses the drug to patients in four locations, including Amherst.

Unruh said the state should let the existing medical marijuana organizations be among the suppliers to help get the program up and running faster and with regulatory controls already in place to safeguard such things as the product that ends up in the consumer’s hands.

“If we don’t want a gap between now and whenever the first new adult licensed retailer opens up then you have to use the existing infrastructure,” he said of the present marijuana growing facilities.

“I fear that folks who don’t really take the time to understand this industry will be the ones who end up setting the policy,” he added.

But some advocates worry that small businesses wanting to get into the marijuana growth and sales sector could be shut out by the already-operating firms doing medical marijuana now. One lawmaker who has pushed for marijuana legalization for years said minority communities have been hit disproportionately hard by law enforcement efforts targeting marijuana arrests, and that there should be special consideration for minority businesses that want to get involved in a New York marijuana economy.

“I think there’s a lot of concern about not wanting to have the existing registered organizations push everybody out of the market. And that’s a valid concern. I don’t have anything against the registered organizations, but we want to try to create a market that is open to all qualified players,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and chairman of the Assembly health committee.

He said those 10 registered organizations will likely have some role, but the state doesn’t want them to use their existing position “to monopolize” an adult recreational pot market.

Kassandra Frederique, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a leading marijuana legalization advocacy group, urged Cuomo and lawmakers to legalize pot “in a way that ensures equity and diversity while reinvesting in the communities hit hardest by marijuana criminalization.”

The group is among those pushing for, among other things, financial reparations – paid for out of marijuana use tax receipts – in the form of state community investments for those areas that it says have been affected by the “ongoing, damaging collateral consequences of marijuana criminalization.’’

Many unanswered questions

Will New York go like some states, such as Massachusetts and Vermont, that permit residents to grow pot at home? How, then, will it safeguard against people growing not for personal use but more to sell on an untaxed, black market? Gottfried, who holds considerable sway over Assembly positions on health-related topics, believes homegrown pot should be permitted under certain conditions. But the lawmaker, who is in regular contact with Cuomo’s marijuana advisers, said he doesn’t know the governor’s thinking on that issue.

Additionally, will whatever emerges in Albany next year permit localities to have the final say on whether a pot farm or pot store opens in their communities? Will it be OK if a town in Erie County doesn’t want to give a permit for a marijuana retail store?

Those questions are, as yet, unanswered and will become a major debating point as the governor and lawmakers hope to resolve the marijuana legalization matter as part of the 2019 state budget talks due to wrap up by the end of next March. Cuomo will be unveiling his 2019 budget plan sometime in January; that plan is expected to flush out his marijuana proposal.

A key point to address is traffic safety. The topic is an emerging one in states that have legalized marijuana, and the national Governors Highway Safety Administration in October reported that in two states – Colorado and Washington – the number of fatal crashes involving marijuana use by drivers increased after recreational pot use was made legal.

Gottfried, the state lawmaker, said Cuomo’s office is looking at a variety of ways to address the matter.

“Long before breathalyzers were invented, police were able to prosecute people for drunk driving. Even though there is not a convenient way to test for marijuana doesn’t mean police today aren’t able to arrest and get convictions for driving while impaired” under marijuana, he said.

As always, a money fight is expected to be fierce. Will pot tax revenues simply go to the state’s overall general budget fund, or will all or a portion be dedicated to any range of areas advocates are already pressing to become pot tax beneficiaries? In New York City, some are pressing that all of the pot revenues be dedicated to repair the city’s crumbling subway system. That won’t work with lawmakers from, say, Long Island or upstate, however.

About the only question that is already answered: Will New York legalize recreational marijuana and sharply alter part of its criminal justice system in doing so?

“There is a very broad consensus for doing that,” Gottfried said.

NY1 (Video) – Recreational Pot Appears Imminent in NY. The Mystery is What the Industry Would Look Like

By Zack Fink, 12/21/18

VIDEO HERE

While the political evolution on legalizing marijuana has been slow, a new consensus by Democratic leaders seems to have arrived almost overnight.

“I think the debate is largely over in New York and we are down to working out the details,” Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said.

But it’s the details that will determine whether New York’s program is successful. When the state instituted its medical marijuana program, Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted that patients could not smoke the drug, which is the most common form of consumption. As a result, advocates say New York’s program has had mixed results, with fewer patients than expected actually participating.

“We have to introduce flower both into our medical program and into our adult-use program,” marijuana advocate Cristina Buccola said. “‘Flower,’ meaning the actual marijuana bud that people smoke — some people prefer that in a medical program, but there’s a whole different way to use flower that does not involve smoking.”

“I think the administration’s view on marijuana has changed enormously from 2014 when we did the medical law,” said Gottfried, who has been working on marijuana legislation for decades. “I think that is partly due to big changes in public attitude.”

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had previously opposed legalization, weighed in on how he would like to see it done in New York.

“Why don’t we, from the very beginning, ensure that the game is not rigged? Instead of creating very loose laws or laws that favor the 1 percent and the corporations, why don’t we create laws that explicitly hold the corporations and the 1 percent at bay? Do not even let them into this new industry,” the mayor said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

The mayor went on to admit he does not yet have buy-in from Cuomo on his plan to keep the industry community-based, and a spokesperson for the governor was quite dismissive of de Blasio’s idea. Ultimately, the city has little say over the process, since a state law would establish marijuana legalization.

Cheddar News (Video): Cuomo Expected to Fast Track Legislation to Legalize Marijuana

December 19. 2018

VIDEO HERE

VICE News: This Brewing Healthcare Battle Is a Preview of the Medicare for All War

By Harry Cheadle, 12/13/18

Last month, Democrats achieved an historic win in New York, flipping control of the state senate and thus taking control of the entire government, upending a weird status quo during which a group of breakaway Democrats allowed the Republicans to control the legislature’s upper chamber. Now that they actually have the power to pass laws in one of the most Democratic states in the country, the possibilities seem intoxicating for the left: Abortion access could be codified into law, the subways could finally be fixed, the state’s byzantine election laws could be updated, and New York could commit to fighting climate change.

But right near the top of any progressive wish list is the New York Health Act, the state’s version of Medicare for all—which is to say universal, government-provided—health insurance. Single-payer healthcare, as such systems are also called, has been a left-wing lodestar for generations. If the NYHA passed, it would make New York the first state in the union to guarantee free access to healthcare (and freedom from fear of health-related bankruptcy) to all of its residents, including undocumented people. 

If passed and smoothly implemented, NYHA could be not just a way to improve the lives of New Yorkers but a model for the rest of the country as it debates the merits of Medicare for all, a policy backed by Bernie Sanders and many other potential 2020 presidential contenders. But now that Democrats can actually pass the NYHA, single-payer supporters are facing a fight that could pit them against not just the insurance industry but a host of Democratic constituencies and leaders—a preview of the contentious debate over healthcare that might follow victories in 2020.

The foremost obstacle is the powerful medical industry lobby, which will likely deploy the usual counterattacks—think the “death panels” of the Affordable Care Act debate, or the fear-mongering “Harry and Louise” ads that helped scuttle reform in the 90s. Then you have Democratic lawmakers who may hesitate to back a transformative proposal that would raise taxes on a lot of people, a governor who doesn’t seem particularly warm to the idea, a hostile federal government, and potential lawsuits from employers. While the coming NYHA battle represents a possible turning point in the history of healthcare politics, it won’t be a pretty sight.

Yet if single-payer advocates could get past all that, they’d have a roadmap to victory in other states—and a model that could be replicated in DC.

Richard Gottfried, the chair of the New York State Assembly’s Health Committee and the chief architect of the NYHA, recently explained what it would look like. “It would create universal complete health coverage for every New York resident without premiums, deductibles, copays, or restricted provider networks,” he said over the phone. The bill would pay for this by pooling the money the state gets from the federal government for programs like Medicaid and Medicare, and also by raising taxes. “There would be one tax on payroll income, predominantly paid by employers, and a parallel on unearned income like dividends, capital gains,” Gottfried explained.

This would transform the way New Yorkers pay for healthcare—instead of giving premiums to insurers, they’d be getting taxed—and according to a recent studyby the RAND Corporation, overall health spending would drop by $80 billion, or 2 percent, by 2031, even as the roughly 1.2 million currently uninsured New Yorkers gained access to care. Gottfried said he didn’t necessarily agree with RAND’s report (for one thing, his bill as currently written does not specify tax rates, so RAND analysts made assumptions about what those rates would be) but NYHA backers have trumpeted the finding that the bill could drive costs down.

The arguments against the NYHA are echoes of the normal arguments marshaled against single-payer healthcare. Realities of Single Payer, an anti-NYHA organization made up mostly of business and health insurance interests, warns of high taxes, long wait times for care under a government-run system, and job loss in the insurance industry. (Through a spokesperson, Realities of Single Payer said in a statement that “rather than throwing out a functioning system for a very uncertain future, there should be a greater focus on covering the remaining uninsured New Yorkers.”) Katie Robbins, the director of Campaign for New York Health, a coalition of unions, doctors, and left-leaning groups, called these warnings “talking points that are used to create fear” and noted that this year’s election proved single-payer was popular statewide.

“There’s been a longtime narrative, a false narrative in my opinion, that this is an issue that only New York City liberals care about,” Robbins said. “But what we saw reflected in the results is that Senate candidates outside of New York City—Long Island, Hudson Valley, upstate in Syracuse—who ran on the New York Health Act, not just standing on it, but making it a priority of their campaign… handily won their elections.”

Those election results create pressure on Democrats, according to Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic consultant in the state who has worked for everyone from Andrew Cuomo to Michael Bloomberg to Bill Clinton: “They have to do something.”

The NYHA—which Gottfried has introduced into the Assembly every year since 1992—has passed the lower legislative chamber in each of the past four years. But even with increased support in the Senate, its path to becoming law is tricky to say the least. The top Democrat in the State Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, seemingly embraced the NYHA last year, but after the election said Democrats wouldn’t raise taxes. And while Governor Andrew Cuomo said the NYHA was a good idea “in theory” during a debate against his left-wing primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, he was also skeptical of the cost and said he’d like to see single-payer healthcare be implemented on a federal, rather than state, level. (Neither Stewart Cousins nor Cuomo responded to requests for comment left with their offices.)

Meanwhile, unions remain a powerful force in state politics—especially in New York City—and some might oppose the NYHA because members generally have good insurance they won through negotiations and may not want to replace that with government-provided plans. Other barriers include the Trump administration potentially refusing to grant waivers to New York that some say would be necessary for the plan to be implemented (Gottfried disputed that such waivers would be needed) and potential lawsuits from employers under a federal statute called ERISA that protects employers who choose to pay insurance claims themselves.

It’s also not even clear the NYHA will pass the Assembly when the legislature goes back into session in January. “It’s like starting from scratch because the political dynamics changed so much,” Robbins said. In other words, now that everyone knows the NYHA may actually become law, some Democrats may have second thoughts about voting for it.

Gottfried, for one, seemed confident of the bill’s chances. “I fully expect the Assembly to pass the bill again,” he said. He added that he and NYHA Senate sponsor Gustavo Rivera were talking to stakeholders to flesh out the details of the bill and add “additional provisions” to speed its passage through the Senate. They were also “working to convince” Cuomo that the NYHA was the way to go, Gottfried said.

If Gottfried and his allies can pass the legislation quickly in early 2019, it will put Cuomo on the spot, former Assembly member Richard Brodsky—a frequent Cuomo critic—argued in a recent Albany Times-Union column: “Anything short of immediate support puts him under the same kind of statewide and national pressure, intensified by any presidential ambitions he may have.” It’s safe to say that reticence on Cuomo’s part will spark widespread progressive anger. “If Andrew Cuomo’s first appearance in 2019 is to put a bullet through the head of single-payer, it will have political consequences,” Brodsky said in an interview.

If the dynamics of passing the NYHA seem complicated, welcome to a preview of what national politics may look like in 2021. If Democrats can retake control of the federal government in the 2020 elections, they will have likely done so while promising single-payer healthcare, just as New York Democrats did. But passing a bill through Congress will require selling it to voters in the face of intense opposition from insurance companies and the medical industry, and also navigating the push and pull of other priorities like climate change. Medicare for all can seem like a common-sense solution to the country’s patchwork, inhumane, and overpriced healthcare system when advocates talk about it, and it’s popular in many polls. But history suggests the politics turn thorny when government-provided health insurance becomes a real possibility.

“You’re treading into unknown territory here. There’s no map for how to get this down the road.”
–Richard Brodsky

Recent single-payer pushes have come tantalizingly close in other states, only to fail, sometimes in dramatic fashion. In 2014, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin pulled the plug on a single-payer bill, saying his state couldn’t pay for it. Two years later, a Colorado ballot measure that would have created a single-payer system was rejected by voters after a confusing election-season scrum—abortion-rights groups opposed the measure because the new system wouldn’t have covered such procedures. Last year, a California single-payer bill was effectively axed by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who said it was “woefully incomplete” and didn’t describe how the system would be paid for. (Single-payer advocates were so incensed they subsequently attempted to remove Rendon from office.)

Gottfried said that unlike the California bill, the NYHA clearly describes where the funding would come from, and unlike Vermont, New York has enough wealth to make paying for a single-system more practical. But other Democratic factions, including some unions and the governor, may not be persuaded by those arguments, setting up a fight between single-payer advocates and the rest of the party, with lawmakers caught in the middle.

As Robbins pointed out, six of the eight former members of the Independent Democratic Caucus—the rogue Democrats who gave control of the Senate to Republicans—lost primaries to grassroots opponents earlier this year, indicating the same base that is demanding single-payer has some teeth. “I would think that the folks who are in elected office now should really figure out how to deliver what they promised in their campaigns,” she said, “because clearly there is a motivated base with high expectations and now the electoral muscle to make them pay at the polls if they don’t deliver.”

That said, Robbins added that “there’s absolutely no guarantee” the bill will pass, and a lot could depend on pressure from activists. Brodsky suggested NYHA sponsors consider a “toned down” bill that is less costly and helps manage the transition so as to address criticisms about job losses in healthcare. He also said Gottfried had the “political shrewdness” to get it done.

“You’re treading into unknown territory here. There’s no map for how to get this down the road. It’s an enormous challenge,” Brodsky said, adding, “the political climate has changed from roughly unfavorable to roughly favorable. That’s not chopped liver.”

The battle over the NYHA will be a state-level political knife fight, but the stakes could be even higher than the future of healthcare in New York. The hope among advocates is that once a single-payer system gets a foothold in one state, it can be exported around the country. The passage of the NYHA would not be the end point of the movement, but the beginning of a new chapter.

“Social progress in this country historically, usually begins at the state level,” Gottfried said. “Our labor laws, a lot of our consumer protection laws, public support for healthcare for poor people, the child health insurance program—all began at the state level.”

The Hill: Cuomo readying plan to legalize recreational marijuana

By Michael Burke, 12/11/18

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will soon unveil a plan to legalize recreational marijuana in the state, his office announced Tuesday.

“The goal of this administration is to create a model program for regulated adult-use cannabis — and the best way to do that is to ensure our final proposal captures the views of everyday New Yorkers,” Cuomo spokesman Tyrone Stevens told the New York Post.

The aide added that the proposal would come early next year, when Democrats in the state will have control of every branch of New York’s government. 

The Post reported that the plan could be included in Cuomo’s executive budget.

New York state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Democrat from Manhattan, told the Post that recreational marijuana should be legalized but have limitations similar to tobacco.

“We probably wouldn’t allow smoking cannabis out in public, but might allow it in some establishments,” Gottfried said. “The health questions about smoking cannabis are nothing like problems with tobacco, in part because no one would smoke a comparable quantity.”

Cuomo’s position on marijuana has shifted significantly in recent years. He told reporters in February of last year that he opposed the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, calling it a “gateway drug.”

“It’s a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there’s a lot of proof that that’s true,” he said at the time.

While running for reelection this past August, however, Cuomo created a state panel and tasked it with coming up with a plan to legalize recreational marijuana.

Cuomo’s challenger in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in September, actress and progressive activist Cynthia Nixon, had backed the legalization of the drug.

Nixon said in April it was time for New York to “follow the lead” of other states that had legalized marijuana for recreational use. 

City & State: Albany’s checklist of health care bills

By Rebecca Lewis, 12/10/18

Single-payer health care may be one of the biggest debates in Albany in 2019, but it’s just one of a number of high-profile issues dealing with medical matters. Here are summaries of several health care issues expected to be at the top of the agenda.

✓ Reproductive Health Act

Although the Reproductive Health Act has passed in the Assembly the past two years, it has yet to come up for a vote in the state Senate. A priority for many Democrats in the chamber – and, importantly, for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said he wants it done in January – the bill would update the state’s abortion laws and codify federal protections into state law. Although abortion rights are guaranteed under the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision, the laws on the books in New York were passed in 1970, three years before that decision. Although the state’s laws were considered progressive at the time, they have not been updated since. Democrats have argued that if a bloc of conservative judges on the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion rights in the state would revert back to those passed in 1970. State Sen. Gustavo Rivera told City & State that he hopes the legislation will be addressed early in the upcoming session now that it has the votes to pass. “I would be willing to move that very quickly because I believe that it is very important, particularly with what’s happening on the national level,” said Rivera, who is likely to be named chairman of the state Senate Committee on Health.

✓ Single-payer health care

Perhaps the most expansive and expensive item on Democratic lawmakers’ agenda – and among the most controversial – is the New York Health Act, which would establish a single-payer health care system in the state and is estimated to cost $139 billion in 2022. Many incoming lawmakers campaigned on the promise that they would get it done, but even if it does pass, massive changes likely won’t happen right away. A single-payer system means that a single entity covers the cost of all health care, which is still delivered by private or nonprofit providers. Everyone pays into a single plan run by the government, which in turn is the only provider of coverage paying claims. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried’s bill has proposed one public option and a ban on the sale of private insurance unless it offers additional coverage not included in the state plan. One major obstacle the New York Health Act must overcome is a less than enthusiastic governor. Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for single-payer health care as a concept, he has repeatedly said that it would be better implemented at the national level. Other critics have raised concerns about the cost, although a study performed by the Rand Corp. that found total health care spending could be lower under the New York Health Act than if the status quo were to continue.

✓ Recreational and medical marijuana

The state has been slowly inching closer to legalizing recreational marijuana. Most notably, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been coming around on the issue. Although he used to consider marijuana a “gateway drug,” the Cuomo administration this year released a report in favor of legalization, set up a working group to draft legislation and hosted a series of listening sessions across that state to gain public input. Although legislation to legalize the drug has never passed either chamber, public support has grown substantially, and candidates, such as former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, campaigned on the promise of legalization. The state Legislature now appears poised to pass legislation that would regulate and tax marijuana.

However, the future of the state’s existing medical marijuana program remains in limbo. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who sponsored the bill creating the medical marijuana program and has been one of its strongest advocates, said that in the coming session, strengthening and expanding the program will be “a major focus,” as will ensuring that it continues to run smoothly alongside potential recreational legalization. “So how we do that, I don’t know yet. But I know there is a lot of concern and brainpower being focused on it,” Gottfried told City & State. State Sen. Gustavo Rivera said he hopes that recreational legalization would also open the door for additional research to increase and expand the drug’s medical efficacy.

✓​​​​​​​ Opioid epidemic

As the opioid epidemic continues to take lives across the state, state Sen. Gustavo Rivera told City & State that the state Senate intends to resume its work with the Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction – first created in 2014 – and that state Senate Republicans could participate as well. When led by Republicans, the task force did not include Democrats. Additionally, Rivera said that the state Legislature will continue to explore the concept of harm reduction. The idea accepts that drug use will always be a part of society, but that society can take steps to cut down on the negative consequences of drugs. Namely, Rivera hopes to have productive conversations about a bill he sponsors to create safe injection sites, a highly controversial proposal to create legal locations where illegal drug users can get high in a supervised environment. “I believe that there is plenty of evidence-based programs that can be expanded and be created,” Rivera said. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio championed a pilot program to open four such sites in the city, but the idea still faces major hurdles.

✓​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Nurse staffing ratios

The issue of nurse staffing levels within hospitals has long been a priority of the New York State Nurses Association, a powerful union in the state. However, a bill on the subject has never passed the state Senate and rarely passes the Assembly. The main component of the bill would create a set ratio of patients per nurse to ensure that nurses are not overworked by caring for too many people, and to ensure that patients are receiving adequate care. However, other powerful interests have also opposed the legislation, including business groups and hospitals, who argue that while the bill addresses real problems with how care is administered, nurse staffing ratios are the wrong remedy. Like many pieces of legislation that have languished under Republican control of the state Senate, Democratic control of the chamber could give the bill a better chance to become law. “We’ve passed it before and I trust we will do it again,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who has long been a supporter of nurse staffing ratios. “And it’s very exciting that we now have a shot at having that pass the state Senate.”

City & State: Has single-payer health care’s time finally come?

By Rebecca Lewis, 12/9/18

With their new majority in the state Senate, Democrats are finally preparing to pass long-stalled progressive legislation. Perhaps the most expansive and expensive item on the agenda – and among the most controversial – is the New York Health Act, which would establish a single-payer health care system in the state, and one study estimated it would cost $139 billion in 2022. Many incoming lawmakers campaigned on the promise that they would get it done, but even if it does pass, it likely won’t be implemented right away.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly has passed the legislation every year since 2015, but in that time it never came up for a vote in the state Senate thanks to the Republican majority. Now that the chamber will be in Democratic hands, the legislation seems far more likely to pass.

A single-payer health care system means that a single entity covers the cost of all health care, which is still delivered by private or nonprofit providers. Everyone pays into a single plan run by the government, which in turn is the only provider of coverage paying claims. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried’s single-payer bill has proposed one public option and a ban on the sale of private insurance unless it offers additional coverage not included in the state plan.

One major obstacle the New York Health Act must overcome is a less than enthusiastic governor. Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for single-payer health care as a concept, he has repeatedly said that it would be better implemented at the national level. In a recent interview on WCNY, he expressed doubt that the state would be able to finance the $150 billion program, since that would nearly double the state’s budget. “There will be rhetorical desire to do things,” Cuomo said. “Governmentally there will have to be a reality test to get all things to fit in the budget.”

Although this sounds like it could put a serious damper on the future of the legislation, Gottfried called the governor’s stance “a perfectly reasonable position for a governor,” noting that Cuomo is already far more progressive than other governors by simply supporting the concept of single-payer health care. Gottfried said he has been in talks with the administration and expects those conversations to accelerate now that passage is more realistic.

Gottfried said that stakeholders who have remained quiet in the past are coming forward to voice their concerns. Most recently, Gottfried and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, the bill’s Senate sponsor, have been negotiating with New York City public unions over concerns that union members would pay more or have fewer benefits. “What we’re talking about is modifications just to accommodate concerns that people are raising now that it looks like it can easily pass both chambers this session,” Gottfried told City & State. “People who we haven’t heard from are starting to come forward and say, ‘Gee, could you add this nuts and bolts?’ or ‘Tighten it up here.’’”

Gottfried said making tweaks to the bill will continue at least a couple weeks into the session, which begins in early January. However, Gottfried said that he and Rivera will not make any major structural changes to the bill and said the Assembly is “well positioned” to pass the bill this upcoming session.

People who we haven’t heard from are starting to come forward and say, ‘Gee, could you add this nuts and bolts?’ or ‘Tighten it up here.’ – Assemblyman Richard Gottfried

Rivera expressed more caution, telling City & State that he feels confident that the chamber will engage in meaningful conversations about the bill, which it has never done before, but did not want to make any promises about a timeline for passage. “This is not a simple thing that we’re trying to do,” Rivera said. “We want to make sure that we don’t put anything up for a vote, to be signed by the governor, unless it’s ready to go.”

Bill Hammond, a health policy expert at the right-leaning Empire Center for Public Policy, argued that no amount of change to the New York Health Act would actually make the legislation viable. “I think (Gottfried and Rivera’s) posture right now is not to acknowledge the sacrifice, it’s to make it even more attractive to whatever interest group thinks they’re going to lose,” Hammond told City & State. He added that any changes would likely add to the already astronomical cost of the bill.

But Gottfried maintained that a single-payer system will lead to lower overall health care spending despite the introduction of a new payroll tax because the average New Yorker would no longer pay insurance premiums and copays. He cited the Rand Corp. study, commissioned by the New York State Health Foundation, which found total health care spending could be lower under the New York Health Act than under the status quo. “To me, the issue is not about where your check goes,” Gottfried said. “What people really care about is how much are they going to have to spend, and how much they will be able to keep under the New York Health Act.”

However, Hammond pointed out that since there is no precedent for the system in the country, the details of the new tax plan have not been worked out yet and it is hard to accurately predict the cost of the program, so the Rand study could be wrong. He added that it also hinges on the federal government providing waivers to in order to divert Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid funding into the single-payer system, an unlikely prospect with the current administration. “There’s all kind of doubt and uncertainty about who’s going to pay more and who’s going to pay less,” Hammond said.

Rivera dismissed the idea that the New York Health Act depends on receiving those federal waivers, saying they would be helpful, but not necessary. “We believe, both my colleague and myself, believe that there are ways within the system that we could actually extend the New York Health Act as a wraparound service that would ultimately not require waivers,” Rivera said. He added that since the single-payer system would take years to put into place, he remained hopeful that a different, more sympathetic administration would be in the White House by then.

Another sticking point in evaluating and passing the New York Health Act is the fact that the previous legislation contained no specific language on tax rates for the proposed payroll tax, forcing Rand to use a hypothetical tax schedule. Gottfried said no language about tax brackets will be added to the legislation that he and Rivera will introduce and that it will be worked out after the bill’s passage since the program will take years to implement. He added the absence of this information will not pose an impediment to passage and that it could be easily added in if it becomes necessary.

Despite the many obstacles the legislation appears to face, Gottfried said that he and Rivera have learned from their previous mistakes, such as not including a revenue stream, and they remain confident New York will lead the country in single-payer health care. “Anything has to start with somebody,” Gottfried said. “And New York is ideally suited to be the state that begins single-payer coverage.”

Gothamist: Pot Stores Are Coming To NY, But Cuomo Won’t Say What They’ll Look Like

By Steve Wishnia, 12/10/18

The odds are strong that New York State will legalize marijuana next year, possibly as soon as the end of March. But what the system will look like — including who’ll be able to sell pot, where it can be smoked, and what will be done with taxes on sales — is largely in the hands of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has remained mum about his plans.

Last August, the governor appointed a 20-member task force to draft legislation for “a regulated adult-use marijuana program.” Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens tells Gothamist, “We expect to introduce a formal comprehensive proposal early in the 2019 legislative session.” Legislators and legalization activists expect the governor to include this language in his January budget proposal.

Between Cuomo’s reversal on the issue and the Democrats winning a solid majority in the state Senate, the main political obstacles to legalization have disappeared. “At this point, the debate is not really about whether to allow adult use, but how to structure the industry,” says Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), who sponsored both the 1977 law that decriminalized possession of marijuana and the state’s medical-marijuana measure in 2014.

Gottfried compares the task to building the framework for a legal alcohol industry after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Will marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sales be limited to a handful of corporations, as in the state’s medical cannabis extract program, or will the industry be open to small businesses? Will tax revenues be earmarked to aid the communities that saw the most arrests during the eras of prohibition and stop-and-frisk? Will people convicted of marijuana offenses be able to get their criminal records expunged or sealed, or their punishment reduced? Will the law allow home growing or Amsterdam-style pot coffeehouses?

The governor’s office, for the moment, is remaining tight-lipped about its plans as it awaits the report of the task force. “The goal of this administration is to create a model program for regulated adult-use cannabis—and the best way to do that is to ensure our final proposal captures the views of everyday New Yorkers,” Stevens told Gothamist in an email. The governor’s office did not respond to more specific questions.

This has left the public debate largely in the hands of state legislators, who have expressed concerns about what form legalization will take. For example, a large majority of the more than 800,000 people arrested on marijuana charges in New York State in the last 20 years—more busts than anywhere else in the world—were black and Latino, primarily young men from lower-income urban neighborhoods. Therefore, many legalization advocates say, it would be only fair if the guy selling $20 sacks on Junius Street in Brownsville or Jefferson Avenue on Buffalo’s east side is provided an opportunity to get into the legalized business, and those neighborhoods should get quasi-reparations from the revenues raised from reefer.

“For me, it’s a social justice, economic justice issue before it’s a business issue,” says Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), who last year co-sponsored the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act along with state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan). To remedy the social ills caused by mass incarceration, she says, pot legalization legislation needs to have three guiding principles: sealing criminal records for marijuana arrests; investing ganja-tax revenues in job training, drug treatment, and education; and providing technical support and loans for microbusinesses.

For the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates both legal marijuana and “harm reduction” approaches to opioid use, this form of restorative justice outweighs traditional legalization movement concerns like allowing home growing, or “social use”—allowing cities to opt in to legalization of marijuana bars and coffeehouses, subject to local anti-smoking laws.

Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize adult use, barred anyone with a drug conviction from working in the industry, notes DPA deputy New York State director Melissa Moore. California and Massachusetts have made some affirmative-action efforts to expand participation by racial minorities and small farmers, she adds, and New York should do more.

A crucial issue here is whether the companies in the industry should be vertically integrated—handling cultivation, processing, distribution, and retail sales—as is required by the state’s current medical-marijuana program. “That’s exactly the model we don’t want to see,” says Douglas Greene, legislative director of the marijuana-legalization advocacy group Empire State NORML, citing its limited accessibility and high costs.

Setting up a vertically integrated business requires far more capital than opening a store or a farm, and so greatly limits small operators’ opportunities to enter the industry. There was “not a single minority applicant” among the 43 companies that sought one of the first five spots in the state’s medical-cannabis program, according to state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), senate sponsor of the legislation that created the program in 2014, and only one of the five ended up owned by women.

While Gov. Cuomo initially insisted that medical-marijuana companies be vertically integrated, Krueger says the governor’s staff has indicated that he’s no longer seeking that requirement.

121018weed.jpg

From the NYC Cannabis Parade held in May (Courtesy Scott Lynch)

One possible approach would be to model legal marijuana on the way the alcohol industry is regulated, says Gottfried. State liquor law strictly separates production, distribution, and retail sales, with a few narrow exceptions for craft brewers and small wineries. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act would have the State Liquor Authority regulate adult use, but Krueger says she now believes it would be better to create a new agency to oversee adult use, medical use, and hemp, as it would have the specialized knowledge to regulate things like packaging and labeling.

“The way the industry develops has to be responsive to the communities targeted,” says Moore. “Not just jobs, but ownership.”

Even banning vertical integration would still leave poorer New Yorkers with significant barriers to opening their own businesses, however. “The biggest problem is access to capital,” says Savino, who notes that the state falls short of its goals for hiring minority and women-owned contractors every year—and that’s in fields that are not still illegal under federal law. Even a dispensary-only license could cost $500,000, she estimates.

The best opportunities for small operators, suggests Moore, might come in such ancillary businesses as delivery services, security, production of “edibles” like pot pastries, and legal and business services.

On the other hand, Local 338 of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, which represents workers at three of the seven medical marijuana companies in the state, told an Assembly hearing on Long Island on December 3rd that vertically integrated businesses would be more likely to provide union-scale wages and benefits than smaller operations. “I’m sympathetic to that, but we’re going to have to find a sweet spot,” says Savino, who has not yet endorsed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. One possible compromise would be requiring businesses with more than 20 or so employees to sign a “labor peace” agreement that they won’t oppose union organizing, as the state now does for all medical marijuana companies.

Another issue is protecting the established medical-cannabis industry from being wiped out once people can buy actual herb rather than the expensive extracts that are the only form of marijuana currently allowed for medical uses. It’s “not entirely clear” how that could be done, says Gottfried. One possibility would be permitting medical dispensaries to run adjacent storefronts to sell legal marijuana, which could be opened while other businesses are still waiting to get licenses. Savino endorsed this approach, with the caveat that those companies “shouldn’t be allowed to control the market” by getting an early jump on legal sales.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act would allow both social use and home growing of up to six plants. But similar provisions have been sacrificed in other states’ legislation, to placate those who don’t want to see people go to jail for pot but also don’t like the idea of “marijuana bars.”

Gottfried contends that if people can consume alcohol in a bar, they should be able to do the same with cannabis. Peoples-Stokes says not allowing social use “would be kind of unfair,” particularly because federal law now bans public-housing residents from smoking in their homes.

Savino opposes permitting home cultivation. “That’s crazy,” she says. “Do you think we’re going to [be able to] keep people from selling it?” But other states allow home gardens: The Michigan law enacted by voters in November lets people grow up to 12 plants for personal use, notes Krueger. The people most upset by that, she says, are would-be retailers who don’t want competition.

The state legislature’s Republicans, now less than 40 percent of the members of both houses, are conspicuously absent from the ranks of legalization supporters. Peoples-Stokes says she’s had “great conversations” with some GOP legislators, but “none of them are willing to go on the record.” Outgoing Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk) did not respond to requests for comment.

Another idea floated recently is to use marijuana-tax revenues to help fix the city’s subways, what former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito calls “weed for rails.”

But while public support for legalization could soar if it would spare late-night and weekend riders from having to take shuttle buses, Gottfried is skeptical about the idea, given that the state Department of Health estimated in July that cannabis taxes would bring in $248 million to $678 million a year, while Metropolitan Transportation Authority head Andy Byford has said the subway system would need $4 billion a year to modernize. And even that higher revenue figure was based on a price and tax rate—$374 an ounce, or more than $450 after adding a 15 percent tax surcharge and sales taxes—that would risk pushing people back to the black market. (Delivery services advertise $100 quarter-ounces on Craigslist, with one Queens dealer offering ounces for $260. In legal states, a newly opened pot shop in Massachusetts charges $300, and Oregon prices are as low as $75.)

In any case, legislators say, the change in public attitudes on legalizing marijuana has been dramatic for its speed — as fast, notes Gottfried, as the rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage.

“Four years ago, people would have said it’s impossible,” says Savino. “Now, more and more people are asking ‘Why is marijuana illegal? It makes no sense.’”