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Calls for Blacks To Get a Share Of Pot Industry

Black lawmakers are blocking a push to legalize recreational marijuana in New York, warning that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal could perpetuate the racial inequality fostered under current drug laws.

The lawmakers say that unless people of color are guaranteed a share of the potentially $3 billion industry, there may be no legalization this year. They want to be assured that some of that money will go toward job training programs, and that minority entrepreneurs will receive licenses to cultivate or sell the marijuana.

Ten states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, and as lawmakers elsewhere consider their own laws, they seem intent on not repeating what they see as other states’ mistakes.

They say one misstep, in particular, stands out: None of the 10 states or Washington ensured that minority communities would share in any economic windfall of legalization--missing out on an opportunity to redress years of having a disproportionate number of African-Americans arrested on marijuana charges.

In New York, the question of economic return for those communities has emerged as a defining issue.

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

“They thought we were going to trust that at the end of the day, these communities would be invested in. But that’s not something I want to trust,” she continued. “If it’s not required in the statute, then it won’t happen.”

Critics say marijuana legalization has fostered an inequitable system in which wealthy, white investors often reap the profits of the fledgling industry.

In Colorado, black entrepreneurs said they were banned from winning licenses because of marijuana-related convictions. Black people make up just a handful of the thousands of cultivation or dispensary license holders there, and continue to be arrested on marijuana-related charges at almost three times the rate of white people. I

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

The black New York lawmakers include some of marijuana legalization’s most vocal supporters, but they want to make their state the first to tie legalization directly to an economic equity program. And that has meant seeking changes to ..To read more, subscribe to the blackchronicle newspaper