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US: Cannabis can transform New York's health and wealth

Christine De La Rosa

Crain's New York Business

Thursday 10 Jan 2019

If Albany doesn't do legalization right from the outset, it might never happen

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to legalize adult-use marijuana in New York, he said that would stop “needless and unjust criminal convictions” for possession. But how the state crafts this bill will determine whether lawmakers right historic injustices or continue to hurt communities harmed by the war on drugs by systematically blocking them out of the legalized industry.

This is a chance to generate significant wealth for communities left behind for far too long.

To be sure, the rich will get richer off this legislation. That’s a given. Large corporations are ready and able to dominate the market. But, New York can create a regulatory framework that ensures smaller, community-based businesses are the foundation so everyone can benefit. Community-based businesses, especially in areas punished by marijuana enforcement for decades, must get equitable access for licenses.

Politicians like to tout offering a clean slate to those formerly incarcerated for marijuana offenses. We should vacate those convictions automatically so it doesn’t put the burden on the people who’ve already been harmed. But this alone is not equity. Equity means a full admission of how devastating overcriminalization and unjust marijuana charges were on communities by not just wiping the slate clean, but also investing in re-entry support for them as they return home including by providing access to education, health care and pathways for ownership and employment.

It makes business sense: People who were incarcerated for marijuana offenses understand the business best and are uniquely positioned to be entrepreneurs in the legal market. Equitable access to licensing requires a training program, fee waiver (not the $10,000 to $20,000 per application that some places charge), access to capital and financing. The state should also build in incentives for dispensaries that hire, provide upward mobility for, and sell local products owned by people of color, women and formerly incarcerated people.

We’ve proven this model can be successful in California and Oregon, where adult-use marijuana is legal. Our company partners with community-based organizations and individuals in our applications for licenses, hires more than 80% locally, and offers workers and community members low-cost shares in our business so they can gain wealth as this new economy grows.

In addition, we plan to reinvest a portion of our net profits into a community reinvestment fund to give back. This will include grants to the what the community identifies as its greatest need—e.g. improving schools or health care—and also investments in those who want to start cannabis businesses locally, such as starting a grow house or an edibles business. Reinvestment into community should be part of the New York law so that large companies are not just required to pay taxes but be good partners in communities throughout the state.

New York has a chance to get this right from the beginning. Albany has a responsibility to create a regulatory framework for the cannabis industry where equity is the core. It must repair harm and provide real pathways to prosperity for those harmed by the war on drugs. Adding it to legislation later will be messy at best and frankly, unlikely to happen. The cannabis business is an opportunity to bring about social change and help people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, veterans, formerly incarcerated and the disabled. This is New York’s one shot to lift everyone up.

Christine DeLaRosa is a co-founder of The People’s Dispensary, a national cannabis company.




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