Former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon last month announced her candidacy to unseat New York’s Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in this year’s Democratic primary, challenging the establishmentarian incumbent from a left-populist position. She spoke in favor of cannabis legalization from the start — but has now kicked that plank into high gear.
In a brief living-room video posted to Twitter on April 11, Nixon said legalizing marijuana would bring millions of dollars in added tax revenue to the Empire State — and also end “a key front in the racist war on drugs.” She emphasized that 80 percent of New Yorkers arrested for cannabis use are black or Latino, “despite the fact that whites and people of color use marijuana at roughly the same rates.”
“The consequences follow people for the rest of their lives, making it harder to get jobs or housing, and for noncitizens, putting them in the crosshairs for deportation,” she said. “We have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity. In 2018, in a blue state like New York, marijuana shouldn’t even be an issue. If there was more political courage coming out of Albany, we would have done this already.”
She closed provocatively: “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 everyone else?”
Cuomo responded defensively, noting that in January he’d announced plans to have the state’s health department study the impacts of legalizing cannabis. “I think we are actually ahead on [the cannabis legalization issue],” Cuomo said, according to the Daily News.
When asked about Nixon’s cannabis endorsement on April 11, Cuomo responded by harkening back to his health department directive to study legalization. At the time of the study’s commissioning, Cuomo invoked a turning of the tide, both in the Northeast region and nationally. “[If cannabis] was legalized in Jersey and it was legal in Massachusetts and the federal government allowed it to go ahead, what would that do to New York, because it’s right in the middle?” he asked rhetorically.
But Nixon responded to Cuomo’s deflection to the legalization study strongly. “You don’t need a study to figure out our marijuana laws are disproportionately putting people of color in jail,” she shot back on her Twitter account.
She also recalled that Cuomo — as recently as a year ago — was still echoing the discredited notion that cannabis is a “gateway drug.”
Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, the state’s new governor, Phil Murphy, took office in January after campaigning on a pledge to legalize cannabis in the Garden State. He may face a fight in the legislature, but he has meanwhile announced an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program. “The days of making residents jump through hoops are coming to an end,” Murphy said in the announcement last month. He added later: “We recognize that patients should be treated as patients, not criminals.”
Back in New York, the Nixon candidacy is clearly putting more pressure on Cuomo — and represents much more of an insurgent phenomenon than Jersey’s Murphy. Although Nixon has been portrayed as a pawn of New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio in his notorious rivalry with Cuomo, she has actually slammed the both of them for passing the buck back and forth over funding low-income housing and mass transit.
An amusing dust-up revealed how the state’s political establishment views Nixon as a threatening candidate. New York City’s former City Council speaker Christine Quinn last week dissed Nixon as an “unqualified lesbian” — a faux pas that completely backfired on her. Quinn (herself a lesbian) was forced to apologize in the subsequent outrage, while Nixon’s campaign seized on the comments, and started selling “Unqualified Lesbian” T-shirts.
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