Cynthia Nixon Criticized For Marijuana Reparations Comment

By Victoria Kim 05/11/18

The gubernatorial candidate recently suggested marijuana business licenses could work as a form of reparations for African Americans. 

Cynthia Nixon

Last Saturday (May 5), Cynthia Nixon attended the NYC Cannabis Parade, cheered on by the 420-friendly crowd as she declared her support for cannabis legalization.

“Arresting people—particularly people of color—for cannabis is the crown jewel in the racist war on drugs and we must pluck it down,” she said. “We must expunge people’s records; we must get people out of prison.”

Nixon is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination in this year’s race for governor of New York.

But it was what she said off-stage that did not sit well with some.

She told Forbes: “Now that cannabis is exploding as an industry, we have to make sure that those communities that have been harmed and devastated by marijuana arrests get the first shot at this industry. We [must] prioritize them in terms of licenses. It’s a form of reparations.”

The notion that success in the cannabis industry can provide “a form of reparations” to the disproportionate number of black and brown Americans who have been arrested and incarcerated in the name of the War on Drugs did not hit the mark with some local advocates.

“I’m for legalizing marijuana and I like Cynthia Nixon but putting pot shops in our communities is not reparations,” said Rev. Al Sharpton. “Health care, education!”

Keith Wright, Manhattan Democratic Party Chairman, said, “I believe social equity should be a part of licenses to sell marijuana, if and when legalization does occur. However, it is insulting to my soul, that the free labor that my ancestors gave to this country would be equated with the selling of marijuana.”

Black Lives Matter activists called on Nixon to apologize for her comment. “It does a disservice to our community for her to play into harmful stereotypes of African-Americans as drug users and dealers,” said Black Lives Matter of Greater NY in a statement. “And it does an even greater disservice to the enduring consequences of both slavery and Jim Crow and the inequities these systems of oppression perpetuated to claim that legalizing marijuana would somehow erase that experience.”

Nixon has made cannabis legalization a cornerstone of her candidacy—especially in the context of undoing the racist drug war.

She laid out her position on cannabis in April: “There are a lot of good reasons for legalizing marijuana, but for me, it comes down to this: We have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity.”

Nixon’s comment could have been worded more thoughtfully, yes. But the idea she presented is far from novel—in fact, it’s already being implemented in several California cities.

The Washington Post reported in January that at least four California cities—Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco—have created “equity programs” to help communities that have been affected by the drug war.

These programs hope to level the playing field in the booming legal cannabis industry, which as the Post said, already “appears to be creating a racial gap of its own.”

In the words of Greg Minor, who manages Oakland’s program, “The folks who are profiting don’t look anything like the people bearing the brunt of the war on drugs.”

According to the official website of the city of Oakland, to qualify for the program, an individual must have a cannabis-related conviction from the past 20 years, or live in police beats with a “disproportionately higher number of cannabis-related arrests.” These are among other prerequisites, like income level.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr