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States hold summit on legal cannabis, vaping illness epidemic

Governor Cuomo's office

The governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania met Thursday in New York City to try to hash out a multi-state approach to legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the governors are trying to adopt a unified approach to legalization to avoid their residents crossing borders and going to other states where the laws might be more expansive or the taxes might be lower.

“There is a desire to do this. I believe the people of this state and our surrounding states have a desire to do it. But the old expression -- 'the devil is in the details' -- how you do this is all the difference,” Cuomo said. “It can be a positive if done right; it can be a negative if it's not done correctly.”

New York legislators proposed bills in 2019 to legalize recreational cannabis, but could not provide enough yes votes to pass the measure before the session concluded in June. 

After the meeting, the governors said in a statement that they came up with some core principles, including researching the experiences of other states that have legalized cannabis and adopting the best practices.

They also will advocate for the passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which would override federal rules that have forced cannabis companies to conduct all of their business in cash. 

Any agreements ultimately made by the governors would still need the approval of the states’ legislatures. Legislative leaders of several states attended the summit, including New York’s Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

The summit also addressed the practice of vaping, and the epidemic of a vaping-related lung ailment that has sickened over 1,000 people nationwide and killed several. The illness has so far been linked to black-market marijuana products, but health officials have not reached any conclusions.

The states also agreed to take more steps to discourage minors from vaping any type of products, including nicotine.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the steep rise in teen vaping is a public health threat.

“We’ve got an exploding vaping reality among youth,” Murphy said. “Which has become an enormous challenge.”

The New York State health department has issued a ban on flavored nicotine electronic cigarettes, saying they lead to increased use of e-cigarettes by teens, but that ban is on hold pending a court challenge from the vaping industry.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.