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NYC Council members pushing state to provide ‘marijuana equity’ for disadvantaged neighborhoods

Levin pushes for cannabis reparations

March 1, 2019 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Stephen Levin. Eagle file photo by Mary Frost
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With Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s backing and legislative support in Albany, the odds of the legalization of marijuana in New York state appear high.

Before that happens, New York City Council members, several from Brooklyn, are pushing to make sure that disadvantaged communities and people convicted of marijuana violations aren’t lost in the shuffle.

Brooklyn officials Stephen Levin, Laurie Cumbo and Carlos Menchaca, and Public Advocate-Elect Jumaane Williams are among the progressive Council members pushing for a cannabis equity program to benefit communities of color who have suffered from past disparities in marijuana enforcement.

On Wednesday, the Council held hearings on a package of 11 bills and resolutions focusing on justice and social equity issues, along with other more practical concerns.

Levin’s resolutions focuses on the state giving people with prior marijuana arrests or convictions first crack at cannabis licenses, if and when they are issued. He also is pushing the state to reinvest revenue into the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

“It is imperative that we focus on righting the economic wrongs we have caused communities,” he said.

“Along with decriminalization, we need to address the economic harms and barriers that have held back communities,” Levin stressed. “Reso. 741 addresses the need for greater economic justice by promoting equitable ownership and participation in commercial marijuana activity.

“The state should prioritize licenses for those with prior marijuana arrests or convictions and encourage those who receive licenses to hire individuals who were arrested for and/or convicted of marijuana related offenses — with a particular focus on formerly incarcerated individuals who served time based on marijuana violations,” he continued. “Too many people have been cut out of jobs, cut out of business investments, and been denied home ownership because of marijuana prohibition.”

Levin peppered Jorge Camacho, senior associate counsel for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, with questions regarding the city’s stance on creating a robust equity program.

“If legalization happens, are we interested in creating an equity program that is able to provide equity capital and start-up loans?” Levin asked.

Camacho said the city was “absolutely” interested in doing this.

Levin also asked if the city would involve Consumer Affairs, provide low interest loans and strategize with communities through outreach efforts. Camacho said that the city would “potentially” do these things.

Levin noted that even though marijuana arrests in the city are down 80 percent, those affected are still disproportionately people of color.

“How would you define restitution to the communities and individuals that have been impacted by the war on marijuana for the past generations?” he asked.

“As a starting point, we are advocating for expungement of criminal records … to start addressing those past harms; to start addressing those disparities for conduct that, post legalization, will no longer be subject to criminal penalties; to insuring economic opportunities are distributed equitably across the city and … across the state; and making sure that the conversation doesn’t end at the point of legalization but continues on from there,” Camacho said.

Levin also expressed concern about pot smokers who had to register with the child welfare system for child neglect as a result of a marijuana conviction.

“That indication remains on their record until their youngest child is 27 years old,” Levin said. “It affects their employment opportunity, other opportunities they should be afforded. That … can have devastating impact.”

“Our recommendation in these Family Court child abuse and neglect proceedings is, marijuana should be treated the way alcohol is treated, which is to say the mere use of it … would not be the basis of a child removal from home,” Camacho said.

The proposed Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) would invest revenue in communities harmed by the drug war and requires a social equity plan to promote diversity in licensing, Levin has said over Twitter.

“The overall goal of the bills is to make sure when and if marijuana becomes legal we create a system that is equitable and insures people disproportionately harmed in the war on drugs are involved in the solution are able to succeed in this new way,” Levin’s spokesperson Elizabeth Adams told the Eagle.

“I am optimistic that we seem to be on the verge of finally seeing some action at the state level in one of the most costly, misguided and harmful policies in our history,” Donovan Richards, chair of the Public Safety Committee, told Council members on Wednesday.

Despite a decline in marijuana arrests since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, blacks and Latinos still made up a disproportionate number of those arrested for marijuana possession from 2014-2016, according to a report commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance.

“Above any other considerations, revenue from that industry must be used to revitalize the very communities of more color that have been targeted by these unjust policies for too long,” Williams said in a statement in December.

“No proposal can be put ahead of the people who have been victimized for decades by the criminalization of black and brown communities as a result of prohibition,” he added.


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