New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo remains committed to recreational marijuana legalization despite the coronavirus outbreak that has forced the state into a period of lockdown.

The New York City region is the new epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. It accounts for around a third of the nation’s confirmed cases. Cuomo has declared a state of emergency and forced all non-essential businesses to close while authorities struggle to contain the outbreak.

However, he said he remains committed to achieving the legislative priorities laid out in his budget before the April 1 deadline. They include legalizing adult-use cannabis.

“There are many policy initiatives that I laid out back in January, and we’re going to pursue all of them,” said Cuomo.

In January, he revealed an updated version of the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act as part of a proposed state budget. The budget will be finalized on April 1.

Marijuana legalization featured heavily in the governor’s State of the State address at the start of the year. He argued that it would help address social inequality.

Katie Neer, chair of the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association, said last month that industry leaders were confident legalization would be achieved this year.

However, the legislative process has been significantly disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak in New York City. There is now a distinct possibility that it will be put on the back burner.

Cuomo admitted that some “highly complex” issues that require weeks of detailed, nuanced negotiation might need to be put off.

He hoped to legalize recreational marijuana last year, but lengthy negotiations fell apart. However, marijuana was decriminalized, while medical marijuana has been sold legally for four years in New York. Cuomo is keen for marijuana to be fully legalized this year.

The Drug Policy Alliance said it is crucial that New York’s legalization effort focuses on economic justice and reinvesting in communities, especially given the current landscape.

More than 100 new coronavirus deaths were reported across the U.S. on Monday, making it the country’s deadliest day so far, and New York is at the heart of the crisis. Governors have restricted group sizes at gatherings, closed bars and restaurants and restricted medical procedures, but most cannabis dispensaries have been permitted to stay open as “essential businesses”.

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