ALBANY – New York farmers are hoping marijuana could be their next cash crop.
The New York Farm Bureau issued a memo Monday backing a bill that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in New York, which lawmakers are considering before they end their annual session June 19.
The bill, which is struggling to gain enough support in the Democrat-led Senate, includes measures meant to ensure struggling farmers in New York’s poorer counties get a chance to break in to the marijuana and hemp industries.
That was enough to garner the support of the organization representing thousands of farms in the state.
“Given the current status of the farm economy in New York state, farmers recognize the potential opportunity the cultivation of cannabis could be for New York State’s agriculture industry,” the group wrote in the memo.
Senate struggling to get enough support
The Farm Bureau’s backing comes as pro-marijuana lawmakers are courting their fellow lawmakers to pledge their support for the bill, which would create a new Office of Cannabis Management to oversee the recreational and medicinal marijuana industries, as well as the hemp industry.
Only those above the age of 21 would be able to legally purchase marijuana, and local governments would have the ability to hold a public referendum to block legal sales within their borders.
Supporters of the measure — including bill sponsors Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo and Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan — say it would end the disparate impact marijuana laws have had on people of color, who are arrested for possession at a higher rate than white people.
The bill would expunge the records of those with low-level marijuana convictions.
‘New opportunities’ for farmers
In its memo, the Farm Bureau said the bill would provide “new opportunities for New York farmers.”
The Farm Bureau’s support could help draw the backing of rural lawmakers, some of whom have been on the fence and are often eager to help the agriculture industry.
“Including New York agriculture both as cultivators and as advisors for cannabis would help make this program a success for the state, if legalized,” the Farm Bureau wrote.
The organization’s memo drew backlash from Smart Approaches to Marijuana New York, a group that has helped lead the opposition to legalization in Albany.
“The Farm Bureau has fallen prey to one of the biggest lies pushed by Big Marijuana — that commercial pot will help New York’s flagging economy,” Kevin Sabet, SAM’s president, said in a statement.
“This industry isn’t about helping small family farms. It’s about investors, backed by Big Tobacco, Wall Street and the alcohol industry, getting rich off high-potency THC products like waxes, gummy bears and edibles.”
30 Senate Dems supportive
As of last week, 30 Senate Democrats had pledged support for legalizing marijuana or were leaning that way, while nine were leaning against it or undecided.
A bill needs 32 total votes to pass, and the Senate’s Democratic majority doesn’t often bring bills to the floor for a vote unless they have enough Democratic votes to pass them without Republican support.
Peoples-Stokes has said she believes Assembly Democrats have enough votes to approve the measure in the Legislature’s lower chamber, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pledged to sign it if passed.
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