New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has received nearly $100,000 in donations from major national cannabis industry players despite his reluctance to support cannabis legalization. The donations so far have come from Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita and MedMen. Both companies hold coveted licenses to operate in New York (only ten have been issued).
Cuomo’s Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, who has been outspoken about her support for recreational use legalization and ending racial disparities in cannabis arrests, has not received donations from any of New York’s licensed cannabis companies.
“Cynthia has pledged to accept no corporate donations,” Nixon campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt wrote in an email to Cannabis Wire. “She has been critical of how white wealthy men seem to be predominantly profiting from the legalization movement. She believes we need to ensure that communities of color, who for so long were disproportionately criminalized for marijuana use, reap the benefits.”
Subscribe to Cannabis Wire's morning newsletter
To get original news and analysis like this from veteran journalists straight to your inbox
Nixon has yet to accept donations from any PACs or LLCs. Instead, she’s funding her fight for legalization the grassroots way: On April 11th, Nixon added an option on her ActBlue donation site that allowed supporters to donate a recurring $4.20 per month. “A lot of people have been donating exactly $4.20 since we announced our plan to legalize weed in NY,” Nixon tweeted. “Can we get 1,000 people to donate $4.20 a month in the next 24 hours? Let’s try.” Since that announcement, Nixon has received 1,631 donations in this amount.
MedMen, one of the largest cannabis companies in the country, currently operates eighteen shops in California, Nevada, and New York. The company opened its flagship shop on Manhattan’s 5th Ave this year. MedMen’s political lobbying arm, MedMen Opportunity Fund II LLC has donated $65,000 to the Cuomo campaign so far. Last month, Cannabis Wire reported that MedMen CEO Adam Bierman has also donated $5,000 to a PAC called What A Country! that donated to anti-immigration candidates. Bierman also donated $1,500 to the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee last May. (Update, July 21: MedMen told Cannabis Wire they have requested a refund from the PAC after reading our original article.)
Nicholas Vita is the CEO of Columbia Care, a national cannabis company with a dispensary in Manhattan’s Union Square, among other locations, whose website claims it is “the nation’s largest and most experienced medical cannabis company.” Vita donated $25,000 to Cuomo’s re-election campaign in January of 2017.
Cuomo has yet to endorse the legalization of adult-use cannabis. In February 2017, Cuomo referred to cannabis as a “gateway drug.” In January 2018, Cuomo seemed to budge on his position when he commissioned a study about the benefits and drawbacks of statewide legalization, the results of which were released last week. The commission concluded that the “positive effects of regulating an adult (21 and over) marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts,” and that “no insurmountable obstacles to regulation of marijuana were raised.”
Nixon has tweeted that Cuomo’s actions on cannabis represent #TheCynthiaEffect, or, in other words, that she is leading on the cannabis issue. None of Nixon’s individual donors have given anything over $21,000. In fact, only three people gave $21,000: Professor of medicine Cynthia Sears, artist Friedrike Merck, and actress Rosie O’Donnell.
Cuomo, MedMen Opportunity Fund II LLC, and Nicholas Vita could not be reached for comment by time of publication. This piece will be updated with any comments.