NY Lawmakers Threaten To Block Legal Marijuana Unless It Redresses Disproportionate Black Prosecutions

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Written by Dana Sanchez
legal marijuana
In this April 27, 2015 photo, New York State Assembly member Crystal Peoples-Stokes, stands behind Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, during a news conference at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Peoples-Stokes and Heastie argue that thousands of black and Latino New Yorkers were unfairly targeted by police and prosecutors during decades of the war on drugs. According to Heastie, any marijuana legalization must be accompanied by the expungement of past criminal convictions for marijuana possession. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

For decades, African Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges at rates disproportionate to the rest of the population.

Lawmakers in New York want assurances that those sins will be redressed at a time when at least three Democratic presidential candidates support reparations for African Americans. New York lawmakers want minority communities to benefit if recreational marijuana becomes legal there, New York Times reported.

Ten states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. None of them took steps to ensure that minority communities would share in the economic windfall of legalizing a potentially $3 billion industry. It’s a missed opportunity to redress years of racism and inequality.

“I haven’t seen anyone do it correctly,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the first Black woman to serve as Assembly majority leader.

Ensuring an economic benefit for Black communities with marijuana legalization has become a defining issue in the debate, according to the NYT. This is happening in an environment where “wealthy, white investors often reap the profits of the fledgling industry.”


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Several California cities introduced equity programs retroactively. Oakland now mandates at least half of licenses to go to people with a cannabis-related conviction who fell below an income threshold.

In Colorado, Black people are still arrested on marijuana-related charges at almost three times the rate of white people. Yet entrepreneurs said they were banned from winning licenses because of marijuana-related convictions. Just a handful of Black people have any of the thousands of cultivation or dispensary licenses.

New York lawmakers want job training programs and licenses
to be prioritized for the people and communities hit hardest by the criminalization of marijuana.

“If it’s not required in the statute, then it won’t happen,” Peoples-Stokes said, according to NYT.

The market for medical marijuana is about $3.1 billion and a third of that comes from New York City alone, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer
reported in a 2018 analysis.

“This is not just about dollars, it’s about justice,” Stringer said in a statement announcing the findings, The Root reported. “The prosecution of marijuana-related crimes has had a devastating and disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic communities for far too long.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s current marijuana bill requires applicants for licenses to “already have the land, buildings and equipment needed for their businesses.” This shuts out people of color who don’t have the capital to qualify.

Cuomo wants the Legislature to include proposed legalization in the state budget in April but crucial lawmakers aren’t interested in rushing it through, NYT reported.

There had been an “overemphasis on social justice,” when “the economic aspect of marijuana legalization” is more critical for Black communities,
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said at a recent conference on legalizing marijuana, NYT reported.

“Not arresting people is not good enough,” said Donovan Richards, a city councilman from Queens. “Economic justice must be served.”


About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubai Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.