The Democratic governor fully embraced legalization as a key to ending racial inequities in the criminal justice system during a wide-ranging speech in Midtown outlining an ambitious policy agenda.
“We have had two criminal justice systems: One for the wealthy and well off, and one for everyone else. And that’s going to end,” Cuomo said.
“We must also end the needless and unjust criminal convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma,” he added. “And let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.”
The speech cemented a significant shift in Cuomo’s position on legalizing recreational pot, a step nine other states have taken despite the drug’s illegality under federal law.
The governor was opposed to legalization as recently as last year, reportedly calling it a “gateway drug.” He did not mention marijuana in this year’s State of the State speech in January. About two weeks later he announced a study of legalization, which concluded legalization would do more good than harm.
Cuomo’s speech left many open questions about what legalization could look like in New York. He did not say how exactly the drug would be regulated, how marijuana tax revenues would be used, or whether he will include a plan in his upcoming state budget.
Cuomo also did not directly say whether he wants to expunge the criminal records of New Yorkers with pot-related offenses, as his state Department of Health recommended this summer.
Legalizing pot was just one item on Cuomo’s lengthy to-do list for the first few months of next year. In the same breath, he repeated his support for ending the state’s cash bail system, in which many people charged with crimes have to pay money to be freed from jail.
The governor got behind bail reform in his January State of the State speech, but legislation to change the system has gotten stalled.
“A judge should determine the individual’s risk of release rather than the individual’s access to wealth,” Cuomo said Monday.
Also among the governor’s priorities for next year are banning corporate political contributions; passing a law to make it easier for childhood sexual abuse victims to sue their abusers; and ending vacancy decontrol, a provision under which rent-stabilized apartments fall out of regulation when their rents get high enough.
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