Cynthia Nixon KOs Cuomo on Pot in Gov Debate

Challenger Cynthia Nixon and incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo duked it out in the one and only New York State Democratic gubernatorial debate on Aug. 29 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.

One of the hot issues discussed was, unsurprisingly, marijuana. The exchange went like this:

WCBS-TV's Maurice DuBois to Nixon: You were an early proponent of legalizing marijuana. You even ran a campaign contest giving away a bong to lucky supporters. What do you say to a parent who's trying to teach their children to stay away from drugs?

Nixon: So, 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. 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% black and Latino. We need to not only legalize marijuana here, but when this multi-billion dollar industry comes to New York we need to prioritize the communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs. 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 jobs 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. And what I would say is that we're not talking about children smoking marijuana, right? We're talking about adults and we're talking about that effectively marijuana, in New York State, has been legal for white people for a long time and it's time to make it legal for everybody else.

DuBois: What do you say to parents who don't want their kids starting to use drugs?

Nixon to Cuomo: "Last year you said [marijuana] was a gateway drug and it wasn’t until my campaign started fighting for it and you completely reversed yourself and said the facts on marijuana have changed."

Nixon: Um, I would say that people now don't choose to mariuana because of its legality or illegality, but what we need to stop is the very uneven arrests of people of color for marijuana. It's happening across the country. It would be a major boon for New York State, not just in terms of reforming our justice system, but it would also be an important crop frankly to be grown all around the state.

Cuomo: I don't think racial injustice in the criminal justice system starts with marijuana. It starts with lack of housing, it starts with lack of schools, lack of job opportunities, that's where racial injustice starts. In the criminal justice system itself it's also prevalent. It's not a coincidence that the majority of people in jail are people of color and poor, that's not a coincidence. That's why I started, 15 years ago, to work on reforming the Rockefeller drug laws, which finally got done and made a fantastic difference. I worked with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries on decriminalizing low levels of marijuana. The Senate wouldn't pass it, but we worked on it and that was a positive step. I think legalizing marijuana, I had a report done in January that says it makes sense. New Jersey is doing it. Massachusetts is doing it. Eight other states are doing it. I disagree with my opponent that the revenues should go to reparations. But I do believe the benefits outweigh the risks. That was the conclusion of a panel of experts.

Nixon to Cuomo:  Last year you said it was a gateway drug and it wasn't until my campaign started fighting for it and you completely reversed yourself and said the facts on marijuana have changed.

Cuomo: Again, fiction, facts. I did this in January. It was before Ms. Nixon was in the race.

DuBois to Cuomo: What do you say to your children about using marijuana and drugs in general?

Cuomo: This is going to be a personal decision, I think. I've talked to my children about it. I experimented with marijuana in college. I've talked to them about the choices, the options, the risks. My children are now older frankly, and I've given them the best counseling that I can. They're in their twenties and they're going to make their own decision, and I believe I've given them the information and the advice and the guidance to make responsible choices.

Nixon is clearly passionate about pot and certainly got the upper hand. Here are a few fact-checks:

• NIxon stated: "Eight other states have done it, plus the District of Columbia." The number of states that have legalized marijuana is nine. Most likely, she didn't include Vermont, which like Washington, DC, doesn't allow for commercial sales.

• Cuomo stated: "New Jersey is doing it. Massachusetts is doing it. Eight other states are doing it." He also flubbed the number of legal states. By Cuomo's count, 10 states have legalized marijuana. Again, it's nine. And New Jersey is not among the nine legal states. 

• Cuomo stated: "I had a report done in January..." Actually, a task force was formed in January to look into marijuana legalization in New York State. The report was issued on July 13.

• Cuomo stated: "I did this in January. It was before Ms. Nixon was in the race." Again, he was referring to creating the task force. Nixon entered the race on Mar. 19.

The New York State primary is on Sept. 13. A July 31 Sienna College poll had Cuomo leading Nixon, 60% to 39%. 

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.