Feb 11 – On January 28, advocates gathered on the stairs outside the Senate Chamber to demand the passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) this session.
Since last session, advocates have been pushing this bill (S.1527-b/A.1617-b) in the Legislature, which would legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana and apply revenues back to black and Latinx communities.
The bill is currently in the Finance Committee in the Senate and the Codes Committee in the Assembly.
Youseff Abdul-Qadir, the director for the New York Civil Liberties Union for Central New York, spoke about the duality between minimal policing on wealthy college campuses like Syracuse University and over-policing in working-class neighborhoods in Syracuse.
“We can’t allow the communities that have been destroyed to be the communities on the back burner of this issue,” Abdul-Qadir said.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana despite having similar usage rates to white people. In 2016, Politico reported that Latinx people were the second most likely to be arrested for marijuana possession after black people.
For this reason, the legislation attempts to bring reparations to communities disproportionately affected by over policing.
The MRTA would establish a New York state cannabis revenue fund, which would direct 50 percent of revenue generated from tax on marijuana to these communities.
“Enough is enough,” said Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, D-East Village, “We need to make sure that the money from this industry goes back into those communities of color.”
The bill would also expunge criminal records relating to the decriminalization of marijuana and change its legal classification to cannabis.
“If we are talking about having a truly sensitive criminal justice system, which is led by our speaker, then this [the MRTA] needs to be the cornerstone of that mission,” said Assemblyman Walter Mosley, D-Brooklyn.
The bill outlines some purposes of revenue being “drug recognition expert training program and technologies utilized in the process of maintaining road safety.”
Some legislators discussed reparations in terms of revenue going directly into the community but its implementation is still ambiguous.
“When you talk about putting money into the communities that have been harmed, let’s make sure that those communities have not been gentrified,” said Assemblyman Al Taylor, D-Harlem. “It has to reach the people that have been harmed the most.”
Assemblymembers Latrice Walker, David Weprin, Joseph Lentol, Victor Pichardo, Walter Mosley, and Nathalia Fernandez also spoke at the rally.
Proponents of the MRTA say that adding retribution to the bill would make a difference for marginalized communities.
“There’s a next step here that has to happen and I believe that my colleagues in the Legislature want to make sure it gets added,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo. “And if it doesn’t get added then we’ll have to wait to see what happens.”