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Queens Chronicle

The future of cannabis and Southeast Queens

Sanders panels talk the pros, cons of marijuana legalization effort

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:55 pm, Thu Feb 14, 2019.

Gov. Cuomo has voiced his support for marijuana legalization in recent months, but the potential reversal has failed to gain consensus support in communities of color most affected by the drug’s illegal status.

Nearly 100 Jamaica and Far Rockaway residents gathered at the Black Spectrum Theatre Saturday for a community conversation on the effects of legal weed. Their concerns were wide-ranging: that legalization would create a for-profit industry that preys on communities of color; that it would lead to more negative engagements between police with young men who are not old enough to possess it; and that residents would miss out on business opportunities.

Black New Yorkers were arrested eight times as often as whites for low-level marijuana offenses, a New York Times investigation found in the spring of 2018. Last Sept. 1, the NYPD began handing out summonses instead of arresting most people caught smoking in public.

The event’s main feature was a debate between four pro-legalization community leaders and three opponents of the policy shift.

Both sides agreed on the decriminalization of marijuana, meaning its possession wouldn’t carry criminal penalties like jail time. In New York State, possession of 25 grams or less is already decriminalized.

Will Jones III, communications and outreach associate at Smart Approaches to Marijuana, kicked off the opposition side with a powerful spoken-word poem.

“They say it’s about discrimination

So the plan is untouchable, but I say it’s an indication

That some people are gullible, being deceived to believe

What an industry breathes. But we’re duped;

Nobody’s really legalizing weed to keep our men from the coop.”

Legalizing marijuana is an invitation for large corporations to take control, placing dispensaries in low-income neighborhoods, Jones said.

AU Hogan, tenant association president of South Jamaica’s Baisley Park Houses, said it was hard to believe legalization would lead to community reinvestment. Similar promises were made before New York joined the Mega Millions Lottery in 2002, he said, but his community has yet to see much of the upside.

“Watch out what this country promises you because they never had your back ever since you were brought over here,” Hogan said.

Andrea Colon, community engagement organizer of the Rockaway Youth Task Force and a student at Baruch College, argued for legalization. She stressed the importance of people of color in spearheading business growth around legalization.

“It shouldn’t just be something taken up by white corporations,” Colon said. “It has to be something where people of color are at the top making decisions and reaping the benefits from it because we’re the ones that have been harmed so much by it.”

Anthony Posada, supervising attorney at The Legal Aid Society, said tax revenue from legal weed could provide money for important services like education and youth recreation.

More than half of the audience raised their hands when asked if they were interested in learning about the business opportunities of marijuana legalization.

After the crowd voted that the debate ended in a tie, state Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park), whose office organized the forum, gave his take.

“I’m for decriminalization,” he said. “We need to empty jails right now — yesterday. We need to expunge folks’ records.”

Unless there’s a major shift in the next few weeks, the state’s legalization plan will not be in this year’s executive budget, Sanders said.

Kayla Collins, a member of the Rockaway Youth Task Force who attended the discussion, said she supports legalization because there’s a chance it could be implemented more equitably in New York than in other states.

“They only have a few models from other states,” Collins said. “You have to try it.”

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1 comment:

  • WonderBread posted at 4:30 pm on Mon, Feb 11, 2019.

    WonderBread Posts: 19

    I don't get it and perhaps I never will.

    The so called low-income of NYC can't afford the basics but always seem to find money for weed. Then cry about receiving a summons.

    Minorities continue to smoke weed in public and common areas of buildings. Yet they continue to call enforcement "racist". The thing is not everyone wants to smell your weed, including those who smoke it. If you can't smoke it inside your home, then you shouldn't be smoking it to begin with. In the year 2019 minorities can't seem to get it right and it's always someone else's fault. But theirs.

    I'm on the fence about legalization only because I know how NYers can act. Give them an inch, and they take a mile.

    Be careful what you wish for.