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April 22, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: New coalition of black leaders seeks pot law that benefits minority communities hit hardest by war on drugs

November 30, 2018
Chris Alexander, policy coordinator, Drug Policy Alliance and Council Members rally at the steps of City Hall, challenging Mayor de Blasio, urging the Mayor to end racially biased marijuana arrests completely. June 20, 2018. (Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

ALBANY — As the state moves closer to legalizing marijuana, a new coalition of black leaders is calling on Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature to design a law that benefits minority communities that have been hit hardest by the war on drugs.

The coalition on Friday will kick off a “We Rise to Legalize” campaign that seeks to require that any pot bill give priority to women and minority-run businesses and nonviolent offenders who had been convicted on marijuana charges when issuing licenses to grow and sell the drug.

The group also wants to make sure any bill expunges non-violent marijuana convictions from people’s records and expand re-entry programs to people impacted by drug arrests.

It also seeks to expand access to the current medical marijuana program into communities of color, reinvest profits from pot businesses into minority communities most harmed by the current drug laws, develop community-based education and abuse programs, and create “good, sustainable jobs” in the marijuana industry.

The coalition includes civil rights advocates like Black Institute President Bertha Lewis, faith leaders, and other activists.

Lewis and others the criminalization of pot has disproportionately led to the convictions of black and Latinos “and have created enormous suffering in communities of color.”

Lewis said that when the state legalized medical marijuana in 2014, no minority-owned companies were were licensed to grow or distribute the drug. It’s important, she said, that history not repeat itself.

”Here in New York, marijuana legalization must advance racial justice and create real economic opportunities for people who have suffered the most under current marijuana laws,” Lewis said. “Cuomo and our state’s legislative leaders must ensure minority and women-owned businesses can thrive as entrepreneurs and job creators in the new cannabis industry in New York.”

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