New York Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Cynthia Nixon touted her position on cannabis legalization at the only scheduled primary debate this week. In response to her platform, current governor and Democratic primary rival Andrew Cuomo has been forced to the left on the issue.
“I think it’s very important that we legalize marijuana in New York State. Eight other states have done it, plus the District of Columbia, “ said Nixon at the debate. “There are a lot of reasons to do it, but first and foremost, because it’s a racial justice issue. People across all ethnic and racial lines use marijuana at roughly the same rate, but the arrests for marijuana are 80 percent black and Latino.”
Nixon continues to raise the issue of criminal justice reform when discussing cannabis, in contrast to others who often tout the benefits marijuana legalization would have to the state’s coffers.
Nixon continued by saying, “We need to follow the Oakland model, we need to follow the Massachusetts model and prioritize those communities not only for licenses but for small-business loans and other supports. And we need to use the tens of millions of dollars that we will have in revenue to invest in those communities that have been targeted, and pay for job training and pay for education programs. And we need to parole people who are in jail for marijuana arrests and we need to expunge their records and use some of this tax revenue for them to reenter.”
Cautiously exploring cannabis legalization
While conceding the need to look into legalization, Cuomo has been moving cautiously on the subject at best. He recently announced a workgroup to study the issue and put together a regulatory framework. Also, he does not concur with Nixon on the need for criminal justice reform that would reduce the great damage done to communities as a result of the war on drugs.
In contrast, Nixon consistently raised the issue, giving her campaign momentum. On April 20, Mary Louise Parker, the star of the hit TV show “Weeds” where she played a marijuana-dealing suburban mother, hosted a fundraiser for Nixon. According to event organizers, social reform is central to the pro-cannabisn movement. “It's time for New York to follow the lead of eight other states and D.C. and legalize recreational marijuana,” event organizers wrote in advertising the fundraiser. “We have to stop putting people of color in prison for something that white people do with impunity.”
Cuomo has a history of responding to progressive demands and, in the opinion of some, co-opting them in part. In 2011, shortly after taking office, he pushed gay marriage through the state legislature. Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School which killed 20 children and six adults, Cuomo signed into law a bill further restricting firearms in New York even as Congress failed to act. The movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour saw Cuomo’s position slowly evolve, which led to a bill raising the minimum wage, though not uniformly throughout the state.
Critics from the progressive wing of the Democratic party continue to argue against Cuomo for many of his positions and his operating style. In 2014, Zephyr Teachout mounted a robust run against Cuomo from a progressive perspective and gained some following while ultimately losing.