This Cynthia Nixon Marijuana-Reparations Drama Is Dumb

Illustration for article titled This Cynthia Nixon Marijuana-Reparations Drama Is Dumb
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There are a lot of issues on which you can challenge Cynthia Nixon, but chiding her for saying that weed legalization should be considered a form of reparations for black folks shouldn’t even register. Not only that, but she clarified her words last week. Yet a group of black pastors felt the need to call out Nixon again Monday in a letter published in the New York Daily News.


“Your comments make clear that you have no idea of the history and meaning behind the reparations debate in this country,” the pastors wrote, according to the Daily News. “It was a clueless, uninformed remark that did a disservice to black people who have fought for centuries for equal justice and basic human rights.”

Really, y’all? Is it really that deep?

You’d think she’d gotten caught slipping saying the n-word or something. Nope. The New York gubernatorial candidate used the words “marijuana” and “reparations” in the same sentence. Beyond the fact that people are adding their personal commentary to what she said, there is nothing wrong with exploring what reparations in the form of marijuana legalization looks like.

You’ll remember that the progressive presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was criticized in 2016 for not even wanting to discuss the possibility of reparations in any form. Now that a progressive candidate is running on a platform that calls for not only legalizing weed but also exploring it as a form of reparations, folks are taking issue with it?

The backlash doesn’t make a lot of sense.

If you missed Nixon’s controversial comments last week, here are the lines from Forbes magazine that have some folks so upset:

“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,” she said. “We [must] prioritize them in terms of licenses. It’s a form of reparations.”

That’s not a far-flung thing to think.

Black activists and others disagreed, with the Rev. Al Sharpton being the most notable. “I’m for legalizing marijuana, and I like Cynthia Nixon, but putting pot shops in our communities is not reparations,” he wrote on Twitter. “Health care, education!!”


Manhattan Democratic Party Chairman Keith Wright called her comment “ill-informed” and said it “lacks understanding of the greatest crime in history and should cease and desist,” per the New York Daily News. Black Lives Matter of Greater New York called her comment “ignorant.”

Sharpton told The Root Monday that Nixon called him to apologize for using the term “reparations.”


“She called me to say that it was a poor choice of words. ‘I’m sorry, Reverend, let’s sit down and talk about it.’ We have agreed that we’re going to meet, and I let it go,” Sharpton said.

A member of Nixon’s campaign, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Root on Monday that Nixon did call to apologize to Sharpton during a phone call last week, but that the phoner was part of a larger conversation and that the two plan to meet in the near future.


An aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign, speaking anonymously, told The Root that the governor had nothing to do with the letter. And while he has not supported recreational marijuana in the past, Cuomo will address the issue after the state concludes a study on what legalization would look like, the aide added.

Anyway, Nixon soon clarified her remarks publicly, and that should have been the end of it. But the Rev. Troy DeCohen, one of the signatories to the letter, doesn’t see it that way. He told me in an interview Monday that he has grown frustrated with politicians “pimping the black community” for votes.


“I am going to pimp off of the struggles that your community has in order to get what I need. And that is where the response comes from,” he said. “You can no longer—and we as African Americans must stand together on this—allow people that’s looking for higher office to use our struggle as their platform to get in office.”

When I asked what actions he wanted to see from Nixon as a result of the letter, DeCohen said that he needs to “hear her empathize with the struggles of our community. Not from the position of politics. I need her to articulate her position from an empathetic, not a sympathetic, position.”


Basically, DeCohen had no hard policy requests for Nixon to consider, even though he and the other signees of the letter condemned her for being insensitive and lacking an understanding of the issue? OK. Got it. DeCohen did say that he was willing to meet with Nixon and discuss his position on the matter of marijuana legalization.

Listen, I get it. “Reparations” is a very loaded word that is tied to slavery. It is also a very convoluted term that means a lot of things to a lot of people. If anything, Nixon should be pushed on how weed legalization as a form of reparations would look or as a form of policy. But to suggest that the word should not be used at all makes little sense.


“I can accept that reparations can mean ... certain things to certain people, which is why she and I talked,” Sharpton said. “I was fine with our discussion because she was not talking about reparations in the broader context that Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about and people like me have been saying for years. She made that clear to me, and she made that clear publicly. And not only did she tell me that over the phone, she tweeted it and released a whole statement addressed to me.”

Nixon also outlined that data in great detail in a column for Cassius last week.

I get why she apologized and clarified. She had to get herself out of a sticky political situation. And I also respect DeCohen’s frustration. But the letter was not productive, and there seemed to be no action plans to engage Nixon on the issue.


And given that Nixon is new to the scene and doesn’t have a known history of being insensitive to black issues, suggesting that she was “pimping” the black community over saying that that weed legalization should be a form of reparations is very harsh. In fact, dragging this story into a new week is more of a negative reflection on the pastors than on Nixon.

Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, summarized the release of the letter this way:

She was clear that she misspoke, but she also expanded the argument of how communities do need some kind of restitution for the decades of disproportionate drug policies. So the pastors’ releasing this letter this week reeks of keeping a story in the press that has already been handled. When the rubber hits the road, we’ll see what Nixon and Cuomo think about this whole issue as they move forward in the election.


Translation: Move on, folks. This horse is dead, and you look silly trying to beat any life into it.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.



Agreed. She said it’s a “form of reparations”, not reparations in its entirety. It was obvious what she meant, but Sharpton and a bunch of conservatives are letting their respectability politics make them look like fools. Which is why nobody under 50 cares about Al Sharpton these days.