New York Governor Andrew Cuomo makes cannabis legalization a priority

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New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has changed his stance on marijuana legalization within the last year, announcing on Monday that legalizing cannabis across the state is a top priority for 2019. The governor who as early as last year considered marijuana to be a “gateway drug” now says that legalizing cannabis is one way of alleviating some of the obvious racial injustices currently happening in New York.

“Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all,” said Cuomo during a speech on Monday.

“We have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and the well-off and one for everyone else. And that’s going to end,” he said. “We must also end the needless and unjust criminal convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma.”

This is believed to be Cuomo’s “strongest public endorsement” of legalizing recreational cannabis, which might somewhat stem from a very close race against Cynthia Nixon earlier this year who very openly pushed for legalization.

Cuomo has not yet outlined specific details about a legalization bill but sources say legislation could be presented as early as January. Though this is the first time that Cuomo has made a true public declaration in support of recreational cannabis, he did create a group in the summer to begin drafting legislation based on recommendations from the Department of Health.

The report from the Department of Health said that cannabis criminalization “has not curbed marijuana use despite the commitment of significant law enforcement resources" and that prosecutions and arrests over the last 20 years “have disproportionately affected low-income communities of color,” even though they are not more likely to use cannabis.

The report also concluded that legalization would allow the state to “better control licensing, ensure quality control and consumer protection, and set age and quantity restrictions.” It would also provide the state with new tax revenue which Cuomo has already mentioned putting toward bettering New York City’s subway system.

Both the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance have motioned to cease to prosecute for low-level marijuana offences. New York City’s law enforcement have also pushed to decriminalize low-level cannabis offences.

“Let this agenda be New York’s Declaration of Independence,” Cuomo said Monday. “We declare independence from this federal government’s policies. We disconnect from the nationalism and the racism and the chaos and the xenophobia and the misogyny and the discrimination and the dissembling of this Washington administration.”

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