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Nixon, Cuomo Offer Different Approaches To Legalizing Marijuana

Picture of a marijuana plant
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Democratic candidate for governor Cynthia Nixon has outlined her plans for legalizing marijuana in New York in a video, saying the state lags far behind some other states. Governor Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, says he’s studying the issue.

Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo in a Democratic primary, says New York should follow the lead of eight other states and end a “key front” in what she says is the “racist” war on drugs.

“I believe it’s time for New York to follow the lead of eight other states and D.C. and legalize recreational marijuana,” Nixon says in the video.

Nixon says 80 percent of the New Yorkers arrested for marijuana are black or Latino, despite the fact that whites and people of color use marijuana at roughly the same rates. She says the consequences of their encounters with the court system hinder chances for good jobs and housing, and can lead to deportation for undocumented immigrants.

Nixon says if there was more “political courage” in Albany, the drug would already be legal.  

“The simple truth is, for white people, the use of marijuana has effectively been legal for a long time. Isn't it time we legalize it for everybody else?” Nixon said.

Cuomo, after an event on Long Island, responded to the announcement. He denies that New York is behind other states.

“I think we’re actually ahead on it,” Cuomo said. “We announced months ago that we were going to study the legalization issue.”

The governor had requested the marijuana legalization study as part of his state budget. It did not end up in the final spending plan, but Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi says the state health department has the authority and the resources to do the review anyway.

The study will look at the health impact, criminal justice affect, and consequences to New York resulting from legalization in surrounding states.

“I’m trying to de-politicize the issue,” Cuomo said. “And say ‘let’s get the facts’.”

Cuomo, in an indirect criticism of Nixon’s statements, say he wants to try to reach agreement on the issue between Democrats and Republicans in the legislature so that a bill could actually become law.

“The best way to forge consensus is on facts rather than opinions, stereotypes, past experiences,” Cuomo said.

New York already has a limited medical marijuana program.

There is no timetable for when the New York legalization study might be completed. Meanwhile, other states are moving forward with their plans. The first retail marijuana stores are set to open in Massachusetts on July 1.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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