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Governors Of NY, NJ, CT, And PA Meet For A Weed Summit

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When Crystal Peoples-Stokes emerged from a multi-state “Cannabis and Vaping Summit” in a Midtown Manhattan hotel ballroom on Thursday afternoon, she was modestly upbeat, but not gushing. Peoples-Stokes has been trying to get marijuana legalized in New York for six years.

“It was better than I anticipated,” the Assembly Majority Leader said. “I was a little skeptical going in. I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric before.”

The four-hour parlay held behind closed doors was hosted by four of this region’s center-left governors: New York’s Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, Connecticut’s Ned Lamont, and Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf. The idea for a meeting began with Cuomo and Lamont on a fishing trip, comparing notes on issues that Cuomo would later call “complicated, controversial and consequential”–legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use and regulating vaping, which has recently been implicated in public health problems.

In opening comments–the only ones the governors permitted reporters to observe–they touched briefly on common elements of vaping and cannabis. Both have little or no federal regulation, and both have the potential for cross-border shenanigans, especially in the metropolitan area, where if something is unavailable or too expensive, it’s relatively easy to go to another state to procure it.

Shortly after the session concluded, Cuomo’s office sent out a 32-bullet declaration of “core principles” among the four governors. These are elements they all would like to see in their respective states’ future legislative packages, leading to a “coordinated” regional approach to regulating vaping and marijuana.

Some of the principles include:

  • Banning or regulating the sale of flavored vape products
  • Limiting the amount of cannabis that can be legally possessed
  • Limiting the overall THC content of marijuana products
  • Limiting the number of sales licenses
  • Establishing similar sales tax rates for cannabis
  • Implementing “social equity initiatives” that favor communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs
  • Prioritizing small and diverse businesses in the cannabis industry

“Are we all going to end up with exactly the same regulations? No,” Lamont said later in a conference call, “but we’re going to coordinate as much as we can.” 

“You’ve got your own sovereign reality, your own unique realities in your own state, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be coordinated,” Murphy said. “Particularly if you’ve got like-minded leaders at the table, as we’ve had this morning.”

Lamont said he hoped the collective efforts of the four states, plus Rhode Island, which was also represented at the conference (though not by a governor) and Massachusetts (which already has legal adult-use marijuana), would create regional momentum–and tip the scales among reluctant legislators who halted legislative packages from passing earlier this year.

“Doing it on a carefully coordinated basis, doing it on a thoughtful basis, maybe changes the dynamic,” Lamont said. “To be the one state that’s the outlier [by not legalizing] might make some people sit up and take notice.”

Peoples-Stokes said the discussion was more than a group of leaders “preaching to the choir.”

“There was some good push-back, and there was some speaking truth to power,” she said, noting that Governor Cuomo and others sparred over the issues of edible marijuana products and “home grow,” the right for people to grow a limited number of their own plants.

“I think he sees it as something for people to grow and then put in the market – which is so far from the truth,” she said. “Most of them are not the people who’ve been incarcerated. They do not look like me. And I think he’s going to get a lot of push-back from rural communities and upstate for not wanting to put that in.”

Still, Peoples-Stokes said she was more optimistic at the end of the day than she was at the beginning.

“A lot of what they discussed is already in our legislation,” she said. “So hopefully 2020 will be our year.”



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