Pot politics: Some Northeast states regroup on legalization

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In this Aug. 22, 2019 photo, lead grower Elizabeth Keyser, talks about flowering medical marijuana plants being grown with special grow lights during a media tour of the Curaleaf medical cannabis cultivation and processing facility in Ravena, N.Y. After legislative efforts stalled and a vaping sickness stirred new concerns, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut still want to make recreational pot legal. But the states have different approaches and timeframes, and some proposals have shifted since last year. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

NEW YORK, NY – A year ago, marijuana legalization looked like it was on a roll in the Northeast — it had already passed in three of the region’s states and was a priority for governors in three more, including the populous New York.

Now, after legislative efforts stalled and a vaping sickness stirred new concerns, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut still want to make recreational pot legal. And they and Pennsylvania’s governor have been comparing notes on how to do it.

“This year, let’s work with our neighbors ... to coordinate a safe and fair system,” New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week. His state hosted the four Democratic governors for an October summit on the issue.

But the states have different approaches and political appetites. They are contending with new questions as both opponents and advocates of legalization point to the vaping scare to make their cases. And in an election year for many state officeholders, the politics of pot legalization look all the more complex.

Supporters remain hopeful, particularly about New Jersey, where the question is now headed to voters this fall, and New York, where Cuomo spotlighted it in his State of the State speech Wednesday.

“The fact that he has really centered it as part of his agenda for this legislative session goes to show just the tremendous amount of impact and momentum there is around legalization,” says Melissa Moore of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance.

To her, the lung illness that has killed over 50 people, sickened thousands and been tied by authorities to a thickening agent in illicit pot vapes has created “an additional degree of focus and urgency” for legalizing weed so users can get regulated, safety-checked products.

Critics of legalization, however, feel the dynamics have shifted their way.