Black Lawmakers Push Back On Legalization In New York

By Kelly Burch 03/15/19

Lawmakers want to ensure that Black Americans will benefit from legalization after years of being disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition.

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes Photo via YouTube

In New York, efforts to legalize recreational marijuana are facing an unexpected hurdle, as black lawmakers vow to withhold support if the legislation does not do enough to ensure that minorities will benefit from the legal cannabis industry. 

Assembly majority leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the first black woman to serve in that role, told The New York Times that none of the 10 states that have legalized cannabis have done enough to make up for decades of marijuana arrests and incarceration that have disproportionately affected African Americans. 

“I haven’t seen anyone do it correctly,” she said.

Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal has promised a “social and economic equity plan,” Peoples-Stokes said it is lacking in specifics. 

“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 said. “If it’s not required in the statute, then it won’t happen.”

The governor’s counsel, Alphonso David, noted that including too much detail in the legislation may not stand the test of time. 

“Some people are looking for a level of detail that may not be appropriate for legislation, and we have to be careful how we implement the legislation so we don’t have to change it every few years,” said David.

Gov. Cuomo wanted marijuana legalization to happen quickly enough to be included in the state’s budget, which will be passed in April. Initially, this seemed likely, but given the opposition, Cuomo said he is “no longer confident” about meeting that deadline. 

Peoples-Stokes agreed. “It’s not going to go the way it looks now,” she said. 

The assemblywoman has introduced an alternative to Cuomo’s legalization bill. Peoples-Stokes’ plan would prioritize licenses for marijuana businesses in communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition, including communities of color.

In addition, her bill calls for half of marijuana revenue to be directed toward community supports, including job training. 

Although no state has written social justice plans into marijuana legalization, efforts to prioritize minority business owners are springing up around the country

"We actually do have to overcorrect. People from our communities, black and brown communities, were the one first ones to be criminalized. Why shouldn’t we be the first ones to benefit?” Kassandra Frederique, the New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told USA Today.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Kelly Burch Contrib.jpg

Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.