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New York, Connecticut governors team up to work toward legal cannabis

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (left) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speak in Hartford, Ct. Wednesday

Gov. Andrew Cuomo traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, on Wednesday to meet with that state’s governor and to announce a joint effort to limit vaping and work toward legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana. 

Cuomo and Gov. Ned Lamont met in the midst of a health crisis related to vaping that has sickened hundreds across the country -- nearly 100 in New York and over a dozen in Connecticut -- a phenomenon that Cuomo calls “frightening.”

Cuomo said the two states need to work together to regulate vaping products and to legalize the adult recreational use of marijuana, so that there are uniform rules in both states. 

“Because it makes no sense to pass one set of rules in New York when they can just drive across the border to Connecticut and have a different set of rules and vice versa,” Cuomo said.  

The sale of flavored e-cigarettes is banned in New York, effective Oct. 4, but Connecticut still allows their sale. Lamont said he still wants to do more research to make sure any potential ban doesn’t drive vaping users to the black market. But Lamont agrees that there needs to be a joint regulatory plan.

Lamont said it's counterproductive for each state to have “its little patchwork of different rules and regulations.”

“We don’t want to give up marijuana to the black market,” Lamont said. “We’ve seen how dangerous that can be.”

Many of the vaping illnesses and deaths so far seem linked to illegal cannabis THC products laced with Vitamin E oil, which is unsafe to ingest into the lungs.

The two states will hold a summit on Oct. 17 to discuss details of legalizing marijuana, including regulating the THC content of the products. THC is the substance in cannabis that gets a user high.

They will also discuss how to tax sales of cannabis, and to make sure that police forces are properly trained to deal with the potential of people driving under the influence of the drug. 

Cuomo said he hopes to have a new proposal on legalizing marijuana to present to the state Legislature in 2020.

“My goal is to have a proposal by January that I can make in my State of the State to my New York State Legislature,” Cuomo said. “And hopefully, we can come up with some common premises for the program.” 

Cuomo proposed legalizing recreational marijuana for adults in last year’s State of the State message, and similar bills had major party sponsors and support in the Democratic-led Legislature. But the state Senate did not muster enough votes to pass the proposal. 

The Drug Policy Alliance, a marijuana legalization advocacy group, reacted positively, saying they are happy to hear the governors pushing for a “tightly regulated legal system for marijuana production, processing, and sales.” They said that with no action on the federal level, states need to take the lead.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.