I didn’t know what to expect when interviewing New York City mayoral candidate Mike Tolkin. Some third-party candidates can be very eccentric and New York has had it’s fair share; it is home to the Rent is Too Damn High Party after all. After talking to Mr. Tolkin, I can attest that this cannabis legalization supporter, who is currently living as a homeless person to publicize income inequality, is an extremely smart and thoughtful candidate that is running for office for the right reasons.
Tolkin has received quite a bit of media attention by spending a week homeless in front of New York City Hall. He has relied upon the kindness of others and he has been pleasantly surprised by the support that he has received from well-wishers passing by. Tolkin will end his homeless occupation on Tuesday, October 10th.
Below is the conversation I had with the the third-party NYC mayoral candidate.
Anthony Johnson: Why go homeless?
Mike Tolkin: Homelessness is one of our biggest challenges. The fact that New York City has 60,000 homeless people speaks to a larger epidemic of economic injustice. People are being displaced with rising rent costs. Looking at the economy, 5 to 10 years from now, our economy will drastically change. Automation and e-commerce are hurting small businesses. We need to be investing and preparing our kids for the economy of the future. We need to put in place policies like a universal income. I went homeless before, without any media attention, to learn about what people are going through and to learn about solutions.
I want people to see the human side of homelessness. Many times, people look the other away, because it is too painful to see people living on the streets. There will be more political action if people have sympathy. We need, for starters, more rehabilitation centers and mental health services.
Do you see a relation between the stigma of drug use, the lack of drug treatment services, and the homeless population?
100%. There are a variety of reasons why people end up on the streets. People exhaust every single option to avoid becoming homeless, calling up every friend and family member. Substance abuse problems, mental health issues, PTSD, LGBT runaways, are just some of the reasons people become homeless. My proposal, NYC Life, would provide safe housing, job training and mental health and substance abuse treatment. Today’s shelters are unsafe, a big reason why people choose to be on the streets instead of in shelters.
What about marijuana legalization?
I am 100% in support of marijuana legalization. I was nervous to be public about this at first, but I decided to be authentic. I don’t drink, but I’ve vaped cannabis and it has helped improve my life. People have access to marijuana already, so we can make money off of the market, or we can waste money on arrests, imprisonment and ruining lives.
It has turned into a plus for my campaign. Other primary candidates then jumped on board after I was outspoken on the issue.
Not only does marijuana provide health benefits, but it also can help promote job opportunities. There are a multitude of jobs that can be created, that can benefit people, not to mention the many innovations that can benefit society and create jobs as well.
We have too many politicians that don’t have the strength of their convictions. They don’t even have the strength of being on the right side of history, even though they see where history is going. Many personally support legalization and can see that marijuana is likely to be legal in 5 to 10 years, and yet they are still afraid. Don’t you want to be on the right side of history?
Mayor de Blasio has touted that marijuana possession arrests have decreased in NYC, but they actually increased in 2016 from 2015. Is there a disconnect between de Blasio’s rhetoric and the reality on the ground?
The disconnect between Mayor de Blasio’s rhetoric and the facts on the ground are across the board. There have been a number of reports that he is a user himself. How can you use it yourself and not support legalization?
What should people do to learn more about your campaign?
Be sure to join other cannabis legalization activists and entrepreneurs at the International Cannabis Business Conference in beautiful Kauai, Hawaii, December 1st thru the 3rd. After Kauai, the ICBC travels to San Francisco, February 1st-2nd, just one month after California is scheduled to legalize cannabis commerce for all adults.
Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign.
As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state.
Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients.
He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm.
His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.