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Nixon pushes to relax marijuana laws; Cuomo says issue is being studied

ALBANY – Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon have a new issue to fight over: recreational use of marijuana.

Nixon, the actress and activist who is challenging Cuomo in a Democratic primary for governor this year, on Wednesday released a video calling for New York to join a handful of other states that have relaxed marijuana laws.

Nixon said regulating and taxing marijuana would bring hundreds of millions in revenues to the state and bring new agricultural opportunities for farmers. But she cast the issue mostly as a racial disparity one, saying the vast majority of people arrested for marijuana are blacks or Latinos.

Nixon, vying with Cuomo for liberal votes in the Democratic Party, said marijuana in 2018 in a blue state like New York shouldn’t even be an issue if there had been “more political courage” in Albany.

“We have to stop putting people in jail for something that white people do with impunity," Nixon said. She added: “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?"

Cuomo’s position is evolving on the issue. Only a year ago, he said he opposed legalizing recreational marijuana use because it is a “gateway drug" to stronger drugs like opioids and he took several years to embrace efforts to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Earlier this year, he called for the creation of a commission to study the issue of recreational marijuana, especially the impact of border states moving to relax their marijuana laws. Over the years, Cuomo has proposed decriminalizing possession of certain amounts of marijuana; those efforts died in the Legislature.

The recreational marijuana study group was proposed by Cuomo in his state budget released in January. However, the idea was dropped from the final plan adopted March 31 following opposition by the GOP-led Senate. Cuomo has directed the study to be done anyway, led by his health department, and he wants it to look at how legalizing recreational marijuana use might affect public safety and health, the criminal justice system, and what economic impacts there might be.

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After an unrelated event on Long Island Wednesday, Cuomo said there are many “cultural” and political opinions about the topic, but said his mission is to hear what his agency experts have to say. “I’m trying to depoliticize the issue and say let’s get the facts," Cuomo said.

If there is to be an effort relaxing marijuana laws, Cuomo said presenting those facts will help build consensus at the Capitol “rather than on opinions” driving the debate.

“Then let’s have an intelligent conversation," he said.

The state permits marijuana use – under strict rules – for people suffering from various health ailments and diseases. As of Wednesday, there were 50,483 New Yorkers who have been approved at some point in the past several years an enrollees in the medical marijuana program.

As Nixon prodded Cuomo to act quickly to legalize recreational marijuana use, pro-marijuana forces got an unusual ally on Wednesday. Former House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, announced he was joining the board of advisers of Acreage Holdings, a multistate company in the legalized marijuana business. Boehner was an outspoken critic of marijuana legalization efforts; on Wednesday, he said his stance had “evolved” as he learned more about the issue.

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