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Nixon, Cuomo Offer Different Approaches To Legalizing Marijuana

ALBANY, NY (WSKG) --Democratic candidate for governor Cynthia Nixon has outlined her plans for legalizing marijuana in New York in a video, saying the state lags far behind some other states.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he’s studying the issue.

Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo in a Democratic primary, said New York should follow the lead of eight other states and end a “key front” in what she called the “racist” war on drugs. “I believe it’s time for New York to follow the lead of eight other states and D.C. and legalize the recreational use of marijuana,” Nixon said in the video.

Nixon said 80 percent of the New Yorkers arrested for marijuana are black or Latino, despite the fact that whites and people of color use marijuana at roughly the same rates.

She said the consequences of their encounters with the court system hinder chances for good jobs and housing and can lead to deportation for undocumented immigrants.

Nixon said if there was more “political courage” in Albany, the drug already would be legal. “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?” Nixon said.

Cuomo, after an event on Long Island, responded to the announcement. He denied that New York is behind other states. “I think we’re actually ahead on it,” Cuomo said. “We announced months ago that we were going to study the legalization issue.”

The governor had requested the marijuana legalization study as part of his state budget. It did not end up in the final spending plan, but Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the state health department has the authority and the resources to do the review anyway.

The study will look at the health impact, criminal justice effect and consequences to New York state resulting from legalization in surrounding states. “I’m trying to depoliticize the issue,” Cuomo said. “And say, ‘Let’s get the facts.’ ”

Cuomo, in an indirect criticism of Nixon’s statements, said he wants to try to reach agreement on the issue between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature so that a bill could actually become law. “The best way to forge consensus is on facts rather than opinions, stereotypes, past experiences,” Cuomo said.

New York already has a limited medical marijuana program.

There is no timetable for when the New York study might be completed. Meanwhile, other states are moving forward with their plans. The first retail marijuana stores are set to open in Massachusetts on July 1.