By India Walton
A majority of New Yorkers have consistently supported adult-use marijuana legalization, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature appear ready to make recreational marijuana a reality this year.
The economic benefits are estimated to be tremendous for New York, looking at a $3.5 billion market potential and tens of thousands of jobs.
The fight toward legalization will be lost, however, if the legislation does not include a critical social justice component, ensuring community reinvestment and economic opportunities directly for the communities of color most impacted by the war on drugs.
Industry leaders and community advocates at the summit have drawn attention to a multitude of ways these communities could be brought into what is sure to be a burgeoning marijuana industry early on.
High Mi Madre, a women-of-color-owned cannabis cooperative, and Women Grow, a nonprofit focused on female leadership in the cannabis industry, both touted legalization as an opportunity for women of color to become investors and business owners from the ground floor.
Female entrepreneurs, especially those of color, will be essential in order to create the kind of equity in a newly regulated field and avoid the all-too-common structural barriers that plague entrepreneurs of color across other business sectors in America.
It is critical that these entrepreneurs, both women and men of color coming from the communities hit hardest by marijuana criminalization, have a fair stake in an industry based on a plant that was previously used as a justification to imprison them, ripping apart families and entire neighborhoods for use of a substance that so many white people use without fear of repercussion.
We owe it to these communities that saw the very worst of the marijuana arrest crusade – Washington Heights and East Harlem, Brooklyn, the South Bronx, Hempstead on Long Island, neighborhoods in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, and so many more – to reinvest in their residents when New York finally ends the era of prohibition and racist criminalization.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act currently pending in the Legislature is the gold standard for legalization, ensuring that a portion of marijuana tax revenue is set aside for community reinvestment and including equity provisions and critical business incubator policies to set up low-income and communities of color for success within this sector.
Legalization cannot be our singular goal. New York must listen to people in the communities who bore the brunt of the war on drugs, and are still paying the price.
India Walton, of Buffalo, is a registered nurse and advocate for marijuana legalization.