In an interview with Forbes magazine Saturday, Cynthia Nixon, the former Sex and the City star and current New York gubernatorial candidate, told the outlet that communities of color most devastated by decades of the country’s war on drugs should get first priority when it comes to licenses to sell legal cannabis.
“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,” Nixon told Forbes. “We [must] prioritize them in terms of licenses. It’s a form of reparations.”
The comments have drawn criticism from several prominent black leaders and organizations for conflating reparations—in this case, government repayment for hundreds of years of stolen and exploited black labor—with equitable participation in the cannabis industry.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, Manhattan Democratic Party Chairman Keith Wright and Black Lives Matter of Greater New York all spoke out against Nixon’s comments, the New York Daily News reports.
“I’m for legalizing marijuana and I like Cynthia Nixon but putting pot shops in our communities is not reparations,” Sharpton wrote on Twitter Monday morning, adding that health care and education were more suitable points of focus.
“It does a disservice to our community for her to play into harmful stereotypes of African Americans as drug users and dealers,” Black Lives Matter of Greater New York wrote 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.”
The group called on Nixon to apologize for the comments.
Before the Forbes interview, Nixon had attended the NYC Cannabis Parade. During a speech, Nixon highlighted the disproportionate arrest rates for people of color for drug violations.
“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.”
Adult-use legalization is a central part of Nixon’s gubernatorial platform, and Nixon has staunchly advocated for recreational legalization in the state.
She’s chosen to do so, Nixon told Forbes, because of the ways in which legalized marijuana intersects with other issues.
“It’s a racial-justice issue because we’re incarcerating people of color in such staggering numbers,” said Nixon. She also spoke about the racial inequity that can readily be seen even in places that have legalized pot. Forbes cites Colorado, whose decision to ban those with marijuana felonies from working in the cannabis industry disproportionately affects people of color.
Still, reparations—a means of addressing hundreds of years of slavery, racial violence, Jim Crow segregation, and the systemic denial of housing, wages and education that black people have endured from the nation’s founding to its present—far eclipses one nascent industry.
Given the massive scale of the plunder of black America, scholars have proposed reparations plans that are similarly wide-sweeping. William Darity, a Duke University public policy professor who has studied reparations extensively, told HuffPost in 2016 that monetary payouts could be doled out both to individuals and through “a variety of endowments set up to develop the economic strength of the black community.” Darity cited inspiration from Germany’s restitution payments to Holocaust victims for this plan.
Meanwhile, current New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is running for re-election this year, has yet to endorse legalizing recreational marijuana in the state, calling instead for a study into the issue.