Andrew Cuomo

Andrew Cuomo's Sudden Cannabis Conversion Highlights the Cowardice of Leading Democrats

On marijuana, New York's governor has lagged far behind his party's rank-and-file and the general public.


Office of the Governor

Today New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unambiguously endorsed marijuana legalization, culminating a rapid evolution of his views on the subject. "We must…end the needless and unjust criminal convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma and…legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all," Cuomo said in a speech outlining his goals for next year.

As recently as last year, Cuomo was describing marijuana as a "gateway drug" and worrying about what might happen if the state repealed its prohibition. "There's two sides to the argument, but I, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana," he said in February 2017. "If you choose to use marijuana recreationally, you know the law." He added that opponents of legalization say "it's a gateway drug and marijuana leads to other drugs, and there is a lot of proof that is true." This year the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws gave Cuomo a C–, indicating a "hard on drugs" stance.

As secretary of housing and urban development in 1996, Cuomo oversaw regulations that established a "one strike and you're out" policy for public housing tenants caught with marijuana or other illegal drugs. The policy, which evicts even innocent tenants when a family member violates the rule, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, the same year that Cuomo, while running unsuccessfully for governor, admitted that he "tried marijuana in my youth."

Shortly before he was elected governor in 2010, Cuomo said he opposed legalizing medical use of marijuana. "The dangers of medical marijuana outweigh the benefits," he said. In response to the argument that taxing medical marijuana could raise revenue for the state, he said, "A lot of things could raise revenues. Legalizing prostitution could raise revenues. I'm against that, too."

Cuomo seemed to soften his stance in July 2011, saying, "We're talking to both sides of the issue, if you will, and we're reviewing it, but we don't have a final position." But in April 2012 he reiterated his opposition, saying, "I understand the benefits, but there are also risks, and I think the risks outweigh the benefits at this point." He struck the same note in April 2013: "We're looking at it, but at this point I don't support medical marijuana."

Cuomo reversed his position in January 2014, endorsing a strictly regulated system for making nonsmoked cannabis available to patients with certain conditions. That July he signed a bill that established one of the country's most restrictive medical marijuana programs. At that point 20 other states had legalized medical marijuana, starting with California in 1996. New York did beat Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and North Dakota by two years.

In 2012 Cuomo recommended decriminalizing "public display" of less than 25 grams of marijuana, which had long been a pretext for arrests by the New York Police Department even though possessing that amount had been a citable offense in the state since 1977. "If you possess marijuana privately, it's a violation," he said. "If you show it in public, it's a crime. It's incongruous." But Cuomo continued to view legalization of recreational marijuana as "a non-starter."

Last January, Cuomo commissioned a study of marijuana legalization by the New York Department of Health. The report—which was published in July, two months before Cuomo faced off against legalization advocate Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic gubernatorial primary—concluded that "the positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts." In August, Cuomo created a task force to advise him on legalization.

Cuomo's cannabis conversion, like that of another New Yorker, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, illustrates how far leading Democrats have lagged behind their party's rank-and-file and the general public on this issue. Cuomo was still opposed to medical marijuana at a time when more than four-fifths of Americans supported it, and he did not endorse broader legalization until it was favored by two-thirds of Americans, including three-quarters of Democrats. Although Republicans are substantially less likely to support legalization, former House Speaker John Boehner became a lobbyist for the cannabis industry while Cuomo was still dithering.

Even in the context of the mid-1990s, when most Americans still opposed legalization, Cuomo's support for HUD's "one strike and you're out" rule was notably cruel and irrational, especially in view of his own youthful marijuana use. Given that history, his recent recognition of "the debilitating criminal stigma" resulting from "needless and unjust" marijuana arrests rings pretty hollow.

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  1. I guess it depends on what your definition of “tax revenue source” is – – – –

  2. It never ceases to amaze me the number of politicians who have tried marijuana and still claim that it is a gateway drug. So are they now secretly using “harder” drugs or are they just the “exceptional” people who were able to avoid the “gateway”?

    1. A careful detailed analysis of their political speeches shows clear and convincing evidence of brain deterioration; so yeah, they moved on and up.
      There is nothing exceptional about them.

      1. It’s a gateway alright: A gateway to fun and relaxation. It’s the most benign agent readily available. Go through the gate and don’t look for another gate; you’ve found the place. Enjoy.

  3. The metropolises of the northeast are ruled by political machines dominated by public employee unions–especially the police and prison guards. I’d guess this is how much support you need for legalization before you can cross the main beneficiaries of the drug war.

  4. As opposed to every other anti-MJ politician who swapped teams?

    I mean, at least he’s done it while he’s still in office.

  5. Modern political campaigns are largely built on finding something to frighten would-be voters over and then promising to ban it. Fear is the essential building block. And, in that regard, prohibition has been the gift that keeps on giving for career politicians. This is why they keep going to the mat for it regardless of how unpopular it becomes with their constituents. They need it. They’ve built their careers around it. And they don’t know how to campaign without it.

    1. “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

      H. L. Mencken

  6. Andrew Cuomo is an total, unambiguous, and complete asshole. Personally and on any subject.

    Nice and succinct. Nothing else need be said about him.

    And his brother is a jerk too.

    1. His brother is the furthest thing from a jerk.

      1. Correct. Chris Cuomo is more of a circus geek level retard. Good of you to point that out.

        1. He isn’t a half-educated, downscale, right-wing, authoritarian bigot.

          You wouldn’t like him.

          1. He’s not even half-educated?! Jeez.

            Sounds exactly like your type of person Artie.

    2. His brother is a total fucking retard.

      1. Which means he’s smarter than Don Lemon.

  7. We simply cannot allow the masses to enjoy smoking MJ.
    Happiness is rightfully reserved our ruling elites only.

    1. Bring back the sumptuary laws!

  8. Cuomo is a giant asshat. Thanks for electing him, you NYC fuckwads.

  9. Yes, but do we want leaders who lack the ability to place a wet finger in the air to test the direction of the prevailing winds?

  10. Those who believe in limited government, personal responsibility, free markets, and individual liberty should embrace the ending of this irrational, un-American cannabis prohibition. It should be the cornerstone of current GOP policy.
    Federal studies show about half of the U.S. population has tried cannabis, at least 15% use it regularly, over 80% of high school seniors have reported cannabis “easy to get” for decades. Those who want to use cannabis heavily already are. Prohibition does little or nothing to prevent problematic use. In many cases prohibition makes cannabis usage problematic where it would not have been otherwise, be it light, moderate, or heavy usage. For the most part, cannabis prohibition only successfully prohibits effective regulation.

    1. A few issues created by prohibition: there are no quality controls to reduce contaminants (harmful pesticides, molds, fungus, other drugs), there is no practical way to prevent regular underage sales, billions in tax revenue are lost which can be used for all substance abuse treatment, underground markets for all drugs are empowered as a far more popular substance is placed within them expanding their reach and increasing their profits, criminal records make pursuing many decent careers difficult, police and court resources are unnecessarily tied up by pursuing and prosecuting victimless ‘crimes’, public mistrust and disrespect for our legal system, police, and government is increased, which can be devastating to our country.
      Prohibition is also very expensive, though, a cash cow for a number of powerful groups such as those related to law enforcement and the prison industry. These organizations have powerful lobbies and influence that perpetuate a failed drug policy through ignorance, fear, disinformation and misinformation. This ensures an endless supply of lucrative contracts, grants and subsidies from the government and its taxpayers to support their salaries, tools of the trade, and other expenses. Cash, property and other assets from civil forfeiture laws also significantly fatten their coffers while often violating civil rights.

      1. America was built on the principles of freedom and liberty. In some cases there are extreme circumstances that warrant intervention with criminal law. In the case of mind-altering drugs we have already set this precedent with alcohol. Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and especially to others. If we are to have justice, then the penalties for using, possessing and selling cannabis should be no worse than those of alcohol.

  11. The whole “Gateway Drug” mantra is a horrible circular argument. I am so tired of the idiocy. It’s illegal because it is a gateway drug, but it is only a gateway drug because it is illegal and you have to buy it from criminals who sale other illegal substances. So your whole argument to prohibit the use of cannabis is based on what your prohibition causes.
    Can we please get people in power who at least have half a logical brain??

  12. Sorry, what are we bitching about here? Members of one major political party are a bit sluggish in favoring legalizing weed? Did you think we’d even be having this conversation 10 years ago? Meanwhile, aren’t Republicans still unreconstructed prohibitionists taking money from big tobacco?

    1. I just smoked some marijuana

      1. Ooh, good idea. Tried everything else for my hangover but I’m just getting drunk again. Ugh, vacation.

    2. Tony, the reason democrats aren’t the to their principals is that they have none. Instead, they, likeyou, are soulless creatures. Seeking dominion over actual humans.

      Democrats are the worst people in the world. And you are in their thrall.

      1. Don’t sugar-coat it. Just tell it like it is!

  13. I keep wondering if it might be possible to discuss this issue without basing the outcome, in whole or in part, on how much tax revenue will be generated. Is it OK to use a gateway drug as long as the police get a pension boost? Is it OK to be an unproductive layabout as long as the local sports team gets a new stadium? Why do we assume that we can only enjoy our liberty if the state somehow gets paid off?

    1. Wait, which local sports team are we talking about here?

  14. I’ll support legalizing weed as soon as it’s legal. Until then, I’m anti-pot. I should run for office…

  15. Bitching about Democrats with respect to the drug war?

    Disaffected right-wingers gotta try something to forestall the Republican Party’s richly deserved fade into electoral irrelevance, I guess. Maybe this is the best they have.

    1. What’s it like to be so completely clueless and monotonous, Artie?

      Is your helmet on too tight?

  16. What is it with New Englanders and politicians with speech impediments? And don’t give me any of that “New York is not part of New England” shit either.

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  18. I’m fine with legalizing pot, it’s better than the alternative. However, I am over every one acting like it is some sort of cure for what ails you. It is fun recreationally but all my friends and family that use it daily are stunted. They don’t take risks, they don’t change jobs, they just go to a job they hate and smoke on the way home and do it again tomorrow. I think it does have some medicinal properties but if you’re healthy you don’t need three blunts a day.

  19. Instead of “what about” with particular examples, I’ll just say what about “every other politician that changed his mind due to changing public opinion.”

    They could all be called cowards and they are as numerous as grains of sand. (Well not quite but you get the idea).

  20. Every time I see this guy I expect Michael Corleone to emerge from the restroom and shoot him and Captain McCluskey.

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