We analyze the career of Cuomo as the Empire State looks to legalize
He’s been called the “ultimate politician,” a lawmaker whose nose is always sniffing the breeze, determining which way political winds are blowing. As recently as 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York labeled cannabis a “gateway drug,” the antiquated, widely disproven theory that ingesting cannabis will lead to the use of “harder” drugs. Now the democratic governor fully supports adult recreational use. Last month he declared: “Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.”
During his first unsuccessful run for the New York statehouse in 2002, he admitted that he “tried marijuana in his youth.” Eight years later, just a week before being elected governor, he decried medical cannabis: “The dangers of medical marijuana outweigh the benefits,” ignoring the wealth of research available stating the opposite and the fact that other far less progressive states has already enacted medical marijuana programs. Then, just a year later, his tune changed: “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.”
The following year in 2012 Cuomo scaled back his support: “I understand the benefits, but there are also risks and I think the risks outweigh the benefits at this point,” he said.
Although he sought to reduce penalties for marijuana possession, a widely supported proposal, his stance against medical marijuana remained negative. In 2013, he said firmly: “We’re looking at it, but at this point I don’t support medical marijuana.”
To many observers, Cuomo was currying his image for a potential run at the presidency. As cannabis was still outlawed on the federal level and lacked support in both major parties, Cuomo hesitated to be a trailblazer. In December of 2013, his administration called recreational marijuana a “nonstarter.”
But a year later in 2014, a medical marijuana program was signed into law by the governor. However, restrictions were harsh; medical use was limited to patients with severe ailments and smokeable cannabis was banned—vaping only.
By 2018, Cuomo’s position had changed radically. He launched a legal marijuana study and, in July, the state Department of Health issued its report stating that the benefits of legal cannabis outweighed the potential negative impact of criminalization.
Just two days ago Cuomo demonstrated the distance he has traveled in order to support legal cannabis. He proposed a new Office of Cannabis Management for New York, which would prioritize businesses owned by minorities, women and struggling farmers when deciding who to award marijuana business licenses to.
“We have to do it in a way that creates an economic opportunity for poor communities and people who paid the price and not for rich corporations who are going to come in to make a buck,” Cuomo stated. (Perhaps he was persuaded by the estimated $83 million in annual tax revenue legal marijuana will generate for the state by 2021.)
Today, Cuomo stands firmly behind CBD. Last year, 3,500 acres of New York farmland were approved for industrial hemp research trials. Studies will focus on the traditional uses for industrial hemp: food, fuel and fiber. But researchers will also explore the potentially massive market for CBD products.
We here at MRR will continue to keep our eyes on the Empire State and their new Governor in the months to come.