New York is determined to become the next state to legalize recreational weed; the state has even appointed its own marijuana czar to make it happen.

That would be Norman Birenbaum, who was hired to head up New York’s newly formed office of cannabis programs back in December. Birenbaum came to the job from Rhode Island, where he helped shepherd the state’s medical marijuana program. 

His appointment in December was a signal that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo intended to resume his drive toward legalization, which fizzled out last year. 

“This is the right thing to do for public health and public safety,” Birenbaum said in an interview this week with USA Today Network New York. 

“The reality of the situation is we have adult-use cannabis today,” he said. “The problem is it’s not regulated, and it is provided through the illicit market.”

Legalization In The Empire State?

In his state of the state address last month, Cuomo once again called on New York to “work with our neighbors New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, to coordinate a safe and fair system and let’s legalize adult use of marijuana,” while also proposing “the first of its kind global cannabis and hemp research center for science and education with our State University of New York, so New York can lead the way.” 

New York managed to decriminalize marijuana last year, but efforts to fully legalize pot—led by Cuomo’s efforts with neighboring Democratic governors—stalled in the legislature. Like Cuomo, some of those other governors are renewing their calls for cross-state coordination. In his own state of the state address earlier this month, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said that he intends to work with “neighboring states as we consider regulating marijuana for adult use.”

“Like it or not, legalized marijuana is a short drive away in Massachusetts and New York is soon to follow,” said Lamont. “Coordinated regional regulation is our best chance to protect public health by displacing illicit sellers with trusted providers.”

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