Legalizing sales of cannabis products at the retail level is once again expected to be part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget this year, he announced Wednesday, once again igniting a debate over how New York should approach the issue. 

The measure has stalled in the past not over whether marijuana should be legalized, but over the specifics of how to do it. How should it be taxed? How should communities affected by drug laws benefit? Where can cannabis products be sold? Should New Yorkers be allowed to grow small amounts of the plant on their own?

At the same time, suburban lawmakers have raised concern shared by law enforcement officials. The revenue, too, is not expected to materialize over night as a regulatory system will have to be devised and sales ramp up, assuming the measure is approved. 

The pandemic, and the need to raise revenue, is expected to provide an easier path for resolving these questions. 

The debate over marijuana legalization has centered largely around criminal justice issues, spurred by historic disparities in how drug laws were applied.

“Governor Cuomo rightly recognizes the significant opportunity a well-regulated adult-use cannabis program presents when it comes to generating much-needed revenue and jobs for New York," said New York State Bar Association President Scott Karson. 

"Similarly, his focus on the inclusion of social equity provisions in such a program is both timely and appropriate. It is imperative that any adult-use program directs revenue to communities disproportionately harmed by ill-conceived cannabis prohibitions and enforcement and enables impacted individuals to participate in the industry if they desire."

Meanwhie, there's already a tightly regulated medical marijuana program in place in the state that is closely watching the outcome of the debate over broadening legalization this year.

“We wholeheartedly agree with the Governor that any successful adult-use program must address the long-standing harm caused to communities of color by cannabis prohibition," said the New York Medical Marijuana Industry Association in a statement. "In addition, it is paramount that existing and future medical cannabis patients have expanded access to affordable products, which can be achieved in part by the legalization of whole flower and allowing the co-location of medical and adult-use dispensaries.”

But, as the group noted, the details will matter.

“We look forward to seeing more details of the Governor’s adult-use proposal in his forthcoming executive budget, and to a successful negotiation process with the state Legislature that finally provides New Yorkers with a robust, reliable, and equitable cannabis program.”