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Cuomo unveils plan to make NY 11th state to legalize pot

Cuomo unveils plan to make NY 11th state to legalize pot

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York would become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults under a proposal unveiled Tuesday by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The measure would permit personal use as well as retail sales of the drug. Marijuana taxes would raise an estimated $300 million a year, Cuomo said. Cities and counties could prohibit retail pot shops within their boundaries if they choose.

The proposal was the most notable among several big ideas floated by Cuomo during his annual State of the State address on Tuesday, including new congestion tolls in Manhattan and a statewide ban on plastic bags.

"The time for talking is over," Cuomo said in the speech. "It is the time for doing."

Legalizing marijuana has broad support in the Democrat-controlled Senate and Assembly. Cuomo wants to include his plan in the state budget, which lawmakers hope to approve by April 1.

Two years ago Cuomo dismissed marijuana as a "gateway drug" but now says he supports legalization following a study by state health officials who determined the benefits of legalization outweigh the risks.

The new legalization proposal comes with a plan to seal past marijuana convictions, a provision lawmakers like Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, have said must be a part of the discussion. Many Democrats in the Legislature say the state cannot legalize pot without trying to help New Yorkers whose lives were negatively impacted by decades of marijuana prohibition.

While there's broad agreement in Albany about legalization, figuring out the details when it comes to taxing, licensing and regulating the product is likely to be challenging.

Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health, one of the 10 companies now licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana, hailed Cuomo's proposal as "a historic step" but said it would need to be studied carefully to ensure it doesn't undermine the existing medical pot market.

Opponents of legalization, meanwhile, say they'll fight to derail Cuomo's proposal.

"No matter how many states try, pot does not bring the promised 'windfall' of revenue," said Kevin Sabet, president of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization. "This fight is far from over. We will be making our voices heard."

Other items in Cuomo's 2019 agenda include several liberal priorities that are gaining momentum now that Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature following a Democratic takeover of the Senate in last fall's elections.

The Assembly and Senate upheld their end Monday, the 2019 legislative sessions first full day, by passing a voting reform package that revamps the state's antiquated electoral system.

Democrats have controlled the Assembly for decades and gained control of the Senate for the first time in a decade in the November election. Senate Republicans were able to hold power in the chamber since 2011 thanks to eight rogue Democrats who conferenced with the GOP. But the Independent Democratic Conference dissolved last spring, paving the way for Democrats to regain control.

Cuomo also announced that he'll include safety reforms for limousines in his state budget proposal in response to the October crash of a stretch limo that killed 20 people in an upstate town. One change would ban reconfigured limos like the modified SUV that crashed into a store's parking lot in Schoharie on Oct. 6, killing the driver, 17 passengers and two pedestrians.