New York’s Governor Cuomo Getting on the Cannabis Legalization Train

With his job on the line in September, New York’s Governor Cuomo is getting on the cannabis legalization train.
New York's Governor Cuomo Getting on the Cannabis Legalization Train

The idea of New York’s Governor Cuomo getting on the cannabis legalization train shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for anyone who’s followed his record on marijuana over the last several years, or who’s been watching the Democratic primary race for governor this year.

During his tenure as governor, Andrew Cuomo has slowly but steadily taken incremental steps toward legalizing cannabis. But now that he’s facing a serious challenger within his party, one who’s made full legalization a cornerstone of her campaign, Cuomo has taken the final leap onto the back of the recreational bandwagon.

Cuomo On Cannabis: “The Facts Have Changed”

During his tenure as governor, Cuomo has fought to decriminalize personal amounts of cannabis and established a medical marijuana program in New York. Yet he has always stopped short of supporting adult-use legalization.

Never on the leading edge of drug reform, Cuomo seems to react to the prevailing winds rather than adopt an ambitious policy. As a result, Cuomo’s actions on cannabis bear the marks of his conservatism on the issue.

Take, for example, the bill Cuomo signed in 2014 establishing a “comprehensive medical marijuana program” in New York. That program is still struggling to get off the ground, thanks to the law’s restrictiveness.

Not that pulling punches has helped the governor overcome Republican opposition to marijuana reform in the state legislature, either.

The governor failed in his 2012 attempt to decriminalize cannabis possession and didn’t revive the issue until 2017. Burying the decriminalization proposal on page 191 of a nearly 400-page compendium on his 2017 plans, Cuomo cited the “dramatic shift in public opinion” as reason enough for another go at it.

That was the same reasoning behind Cuomo’s January 2018 announcement that he was commissioning a study on regulating and taxing cannabis for adult use.

And it was the reasoning the governor cited Thursday when he made a strong commitment to full legalization, not a day after his Democratic rival came forward with a very progressive cannabis agenda.

After Cynthia Nixon Ups The Ante On Legalization In New York, Gov. Cuomo Follows Suit

Cynthia Nixon is running against Cuomo in the September Democratic primary in New York. On Wednesday, she made an impassioned speech denouncing the war on drugs’ disproportionate criminalization of minorities. For Nixon, full legalization is a civil rights and racial justice issue.

In his subsequent defense of legalization, Cuomo referenced no such noble causes. Rather, he seemed resigned that New York would be the next domino to fall in a region rapidly legalizing marijuana.

“It’s no longer a question of legal or illegal. It’s legal in Massachusetts. It may be legal in New Jersey. Which means for all intents and purposes it’s going to be here anyway,” Cuomo said Thursday.

“The facts have changed,” the governor added.

Twenty-four hours prior, however, Cuomo was saying there weren’t enough facts. In direct response to Nixon’s campaign statement on Wednesday, the governor said: “Let’s get the facts and make a decision based on the facts.”

Legalization is immensely popular in New York, especially among Democratic voters. So a tepid stance on cannabis doesn’t have strong appeal.

“The situation has changed dramatically with marijuana,” Cuomo said Thursday. But between Wednesday and Thursday, it’s hard to imagine what else changed with respect to legalization. Except, of course, Cuomo’s rival adopting a progressive cannabis platform rooted in principles of social justice.

“There are a lot of good reasons for legalizing marijuana, ” Nixon said on Wednesday. “But for me, it comes down to this. We have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity.”

The Final Hit: New York’s Governor Cuomo Getting on the Cannabis Legalization Train

New York’s Governor Cuomo getting on the cannabis legalization train is the latest of recent conversions by high-profile politicos.

Earlier these week, long time anti-cannabis Republican John Boehner, after a career spent supporting policy that locked up massive numbers of people of color for petty possession charges, announced his reversal on legal marijuana, a move concurrent with his appointment to the board of one of the country’s largest cannabis investment companies.

And who could doubt that refusing to support legalization in New York would make Cuomo’s run against Nixon that much harder? Funny how politicians seem to notice that “the facts have changed” when their careers are on the line.

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