ALBANY — Joining a growing group of states that have loosened restrictions on marijuana, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York plans this week to announce an executive action that would allow limited use of the drug by those with serious illnesses, state officials say.The shift by Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who had long resisted legalizing medical marijuana, comes as other states are taking increasingly liberal positions on it — most notably Colorado, where thousands have flocked to buy the drug for recreational use since it became legal on Jan. 1....While Mr. Cuomo’s measure falls well short of full legalization, it nonetheless moves New York, long one of the nation’s most punitive states for those caught using or dealing drugs, a significant step closer to policies being embraced by marijuana advocates and lawmakers elsewhere.
And what prompted this shift by Sheriff Andy?
Why public pressure and polling, of course:
For Mr. Cuomo, who has often found common ground with Republicans on fiscal issues, the sudden shift on marijuana — which he is expected to announce on Wednesday in his annual State of the State address — was the latest of several instances in which he has embarked on a major social policy effort sure to bolster his popularity with a large portion of his political base.In 2011, he successfully championed the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York. And a year ago, in the aftermath of the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Cuomo pushed through legislation giving New York some of the nation’s toughest gun-control laws, including a strict ban on assault weapons. He also has pushed, unsuccessfully so far, to strengthen abortion rights in state law.The governor’s action also comes as advocates for changing drug laws have stepped up criticism of New York City’s stringent enforcement of marijuana laws, which resulted in nearly 450,000 misdemeanor charges from 2002 to 2012, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates more liberal drug laws.
His shift, according to a person briefed on the governor’s views but not authorized to speak on the record, was rooted in his belief that the program he has drawn up can help those in need, while limiting the potential for abuse. Mr. Cuomo is also up for election this year, and polls have shown overwhelming support for medical marijuana in New York: 82 percent of New York voters approved of the idea in a survey by Siena College last May.
This is an election year move by a governor who is increasingly unpopular on both the right and left for different reasons.
This has become a problem for a governor who once enjoyed close to 90% approval ratings.
On the right, Cuomo has taken a hit over the SAFE Act, a gun control law he pushed through the legislature that has many upstate and in western New York hopping mad.
On the left, Cuomo still enjoys decent approval but his ratings have fallen over the past two years.
Both of those trends can be seen in this poll taken by the Rochester Business Journal:
More than half of respondents to this week's RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll disapprove of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's overall job performance. Most Democrats, however, give him a favorable rating.
Cuomo is slated to deliver his fourth State of the State address Jan. 8.
The governor's disapproval rate was highest among the 37 percent of poll respondents who identified themselves as Republicans. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans said they disapprove of his performance, with 30 percent saying they strongly disapprove. Just 4 percent said they strongly approve.
Among Democrats, 60 percent approve of Cuomo's performance, with 7 percent saying they strongly approve.
Among those who identified themselves as non-affiliated or affiliated with third parties, 63 percent gave Cuomo a thumbs-down.
Cuomo's approval ratings in RBJ reader polls have fallen sharply. When the same question was asked in January 2012, Cuomo's overall approval rating was 83 percent and 34 percent of respondents said they strongly approved of his performance. A year ago, the numbers were 80 percent and 34 percent, respectively.
The comments in the poll are quite telling. Here's a sample:
His first two years he had some good sound fiscally conservative and socially centrist policies. However, the SAFE Act will likely be his undoing in 2014.
—Lester Wilson, North Syracuse
As if his five-plus-year delay on hydrofracking isn't bad enough, his sneak attack on our Second Amendment rights through the passage of the (un)SAFE Act is worse. Cuomo has chosen to govern as a dictator, and the Legislature has facilitated it.
The governor is an angry bully who is focused only on himself and his own personal agenda for New York State.
—Jeff Hoffman, US Airports
New York needs an administrative leader who uses the office of the governor to effect change. Cuomo is a political hack who tries to follow polling data. The SAFE Act is a perfect example of symbolism over substance. If New York is so "business-friendly," why is it necessary to run television ads saying it is? I am a disappointed Democrat looking for true leadership, not politics as usual. Take some risks; the people will respond.
I've watched politicians for 30 years, but Cuomo is the worst. He has the demagogue's ability to sound 100 percent righteous while actually doing very underhanded deeds. Upstate economic development is a good example; he launches gimmick programs such as the tax-free zones with endless press conferences, then quietly cuts roads/bridge funding, raises taxes and fees and unleashes his tax, labor and DEC bureaucrats to kill thousands more jobs here, tilting the political balance of power even more toward his political base in New York City. The SAFE Act is his Obamacare—poorly written and poorly implemented, doing great damage to ordinary New Yorkers. He talks about ending corruption while taking $50,000 checks from real estate developers, who aren't contributing out of the goodness of their hearts. Everything about the guy reeks of hypocrisy.
I can never give a rating higher than strongly disapprove because I believe Mr. Cuomo violated our constitutional rights and due process in the way he forced the so-called SAFE Act on us, and because he is such a strong supporter of the abomination of abortion. He, like Mr. Obama, is intoxicated by the executive order, which is being used to pre-empt the legislative arm of government. Thumbs down all the way around.
—Diane C. Harris, president, Hypotenuse Enterprises Inc.
I believe Gov. Cuomo started off good, but then came the SAFE Act.
These are right-leaning voters and Cuomo seems to have lost those people for good.
He is planning on ramming some tax cuts through the legislature this year in hopes of reclaiming some support from the middle and the right, but anger over the SAFE Act puts a ceiling on the level of support he can regain from the right.
So what's a governor up for re-election in November 2014 - not to mention with his sights on a 2016 presidential run - to do to regain some popularity and support?
Why, look at the polling and change position on something like medical marijuana that has 82% support in NY State, of course!
And that's what he's done - although as has been pointed out in the Times article, the "shift" in policy Cuomo has proposed doesn't go nearly as far as many other states that have already legalized medical marijuana.
Still, the reason why Cuomo, once a staunch opponent to legalizing medical marijuana, has shifted now is because he is nothing if not a politically expedient governor.
He knows when he's got trouble on the horizon and he's pretty adept at trying to mitigate some of that trouble by changing positions on social policies - like gay marriage, for example.
This now brings us to his education reform agenda here in NY State - specifically the Common Core, the APPR Teacher Evaluation law, and the inBloom data project.
There has been a growing opposition to this agenda in the state, as witnessed personally by the functionaries carrying out that agenda - Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and NYSED Commissioner John King - as they traveled the state trying to sell Cuomo's reform agenda.
Cuomo himself has indicated he knows the agenda is not popular any longer because he has done his best to distance himself from it, claiming the Common Core State Standards are a "national curriculum" and the state's reforms come from the SED and the Regents, bodies which he does not control (technically true, but functionally immaterial as he has been able to push his agenda through those bodies in the past.)
Polling also shows that Cuomo's education reform agenda is not popular, though the opposition to it does not reach anywhere near the levels of support the medical marijuana issue enjoy - not yet, at any rate.
A Siena poll in November found 49% of NYer's were opposed to Common Core while 45% supported the standards. But the poll also found that many people had no idea what the standards were, or little idea what they were, though those numbers may have changed since then, especially after the news reports about the King/Tisch Common Core forums that showed so many NYers around the state protesting the standards.
The poll did show a clear majority of NYer's think there is too much testing in schools in New York - 52% (12% said there is not enough testing, 28% said there is just the right amount.) It also showed a clear majority saying the state's education reforms over the last three years (in other words, Cuomo's reform agenda) either were moving schools in the wrong direction (22%) or having no impact on schools (44%.) 28% said the reforms made over the last three years were moving schools in the right direction.
With so much of the education news in the state focused on criticism of the Common Core, the state's testing regime, the APPR teacher evaluation system that mandates so much extra testing and the inBloom data project being pushed through by the Regents and the SED, it's reasonable to assume that these polling numbers have not gone the reform way since the Siena poll was conducted in November.
The ground is fertile to grow the opposition to Common Core and the SED/Regents reform agenda and tie it to Cuomo, particularly with his State of the State address coming up this week.
Cuomo has used the last three State of the State addresses to promote his education reform agenda, including his APPR teacher evaluation system that added so much extra testing to schools.
Cuomo was rumored to be polling APPR and education reform in the recent past.
It was just a few days after those polling calls were made that Cuomo suggested some changes to the state's education reform agenda were possible in the upcoming legislative session, as reported by Jessica Bakeman at Capital NY:
ALBANY—Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday he would consider “legislative changes” to address parents' concerns about the rigorous Common Core standards, on which New York schools started testing some students last April.
“I've heard quite a bit from the parents who are very concerned about Common Core,” Cuomo told reporters after an event on Staten Island. “It's part of a national curriculum that the national experts say is actually going to be beneficial.
“But there's no doubt that there are significant elements, at least in the transition, that are problematic,” he continued.
We've seen what some of these "fixes" look like (i.e., John Flanagan's bill) and they do nothing to address parent's concerns over testing, CCSS or inBloom.
Rather, they look like politicians taking little action to make it look like they're taking real action when they really want to take no action.
Nonetheless, you can see that the pressure is getting to both Cuomo and legislative supporters of the state's education reform agenda.
Just last year, they wouldn't have addressed these concerns at all, or simply dismissed them as concerns from the fringe.
Cuomo's shift on medical marijuana is a slight one - it doesn't go anywhere near as far as many states that already have medical marijuana laws in place.
The proposed fixes for Cuomo's education reform agenda do not go far enough either, as has been noted best by Carol Burris in the Times-Union.
And so the pressure on Cuomo must continue to be applied on both these issues to make real change happen.
That's what opponents to the state's education reform agenda plan on doing this week with protests scheduled to put Cuomo on the defensive on his reform agenda:
Cuomo blinked on medical marijuana and he'll blink on education reform too if enough pressure is applied during his re-election year, two years out from his potential White House run.
The last thing he wants this year is a growing opposition to his education reform agenda overtaking his campaign messaging and droning out his p.r.
Cuomo wants a smooth re-election campaign that sets him up for a relatively smooth White House run in 2016 (if Hillary Clinton decides not to run.)
And he knows having CCSS/APPR/inBloom opponents trailing him to every campaign stop and protesting his education reform agenda will not make for a smooth re-election campaign.