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Reclaim RI’s 420 rally for racial and economic justice in cannabis legalization law

“We can’t talk about weed legalization if we don’t mention policing, police violence and mass incarceration,” said Ariel Tavares, who emceed the event. “That is the foundation and fire behind our demands.”

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Reclaim RI held a rally for cannabis freedom and justice at the Rhode Island State House on Tuesday. Around 100 people participated. Yes We Cannabis RI, BLM RI PAC, the Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island, AFROSOC RI, and Marijuana Policy Project all endorsed the rally and participated. The date, April 20, or 420, is an unofficial, nationwide, cannabis holiday.

Will James had the live stream:

“We’re going to be blunt about, pun intended,” said Ariel Tavares, co-director of Reclaim RI. “Legalization is coming to Rhode Island and we are here today because we believe, without a doubt, that racial and economic justice must come along with it. This is a very real reality that while the attitude about legalization and even the conversation has progressed, it continues to leave people of color and working class people behind – and some behind bars.

“We can’t talk about weed legalization if we don’t mention policing, police violence and mass incarceration. That is the foundation and fire behind our demands.”

The coalition of groups are demanding::

  • The automatic expungement from criminal records of cannabis-related offenses 
  • The setting aside of a significant portion of the legal cannabis market for businesses owned by working-class people, people of color, and people harmed by the war on drugs—including a segment of licenses reserved specifically for worker-owned cannabis cooperatives. 
  • Union rights for all cannabis industry workers.

Saying that though we should welcome the news that Rhode Island is joining other states in legalizing cannabis this year, Reclaim RI co-director Kinverly Dicupe, we should do so “without forgetting the promises that first came when we spoke of legalization and without leaving behind the most affected people in the war on drugs.”

“It is true that many states have legalized marijuana, but what isn’t true is the racial and economic justice has come with it,” continued Dicupe. “Across the country the marijuana industry is being monopolized by large corporations and the already wealthy.”

Boos from the crowd.


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“So people who never sat a day in jail, who have never been profiled, are the first ones lining up to get the bank. So we have the chance now to make sure that doesn’t happen in this state. We can demand better and when we organize, we can win a better world.

“What can we demand? We can demand that worker cooperatives, started by impacted people, get grants and no interest loans that can be forgiven…”

“It’s time to end perpetual punishment and continued criminalization of marijuana in our state,” said Cherie Cruz co-founder of the Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island. “This is negatively impacting our families, our communities, impacting unemployment, housing instability and parental rights.

“This is impacting issues around trauma. When people are policed, when people are incarcerated and locked out of opportunities and necessities needed to live, it affects all of us,” continued Cruz. “Let’s talk about who is being policed. We know, based on data, that the criminalization of marijuana is a tool that has been used and used widely over the past two decades to disproportionately impact certain populations – particularly Black and brown and poor communities here in Rhode Island…”

Daniel Denvir told people how they can help Reclaim Ri in this effort by contacting their legislators here.

“When I was young I experienced criminalization for cannabis. At 15-years-old I got caught with a couple of grams and got treated like I was a big time drug dealer,” said Kyle Delgado for Yes We Cannabis RI. “I had cops interrogate me. I had cops trying to get be to flip on people and snitch and all that stuff. As a young person, that’s really traumatic as a person of color. I’m 15-years-old, with my face down in the street, being arrested, put in handcuffs in front of all my friends.

“I’ve seen people’s lives ruined by just having a a joint, a clip in their car when they’re driving. Whole people’s lives ruined for this stuff,” continued Delgado. “It makes me sick now that we want to have this legal industry, millions of dollars being thrown around, big, large scale grow operations, big companies, all this good funding – and we’re not going back repairing the harm that was done all these years and generations before this…”

The rally started literally an hour after the guilty verdict came down in the Dennis Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. Enrique Sanchez, Harrison Tuttle and Cedric from the BLM RI PAC spoke briefly about the verdict, tying the call for justice there into the larger call for justice that includes reallocating funding from police and changing what we criminalize in society, including the criminalization of cannabis.

“We don’t need to give the police another wagon to traumatize us. To steal another life. To make us afraid,” said Susannah, a cofounder of AFROSOC RI. “So today we stand here demanding we legalize cannabis. That we give back money to our communities.”

“We stand in solidarity with you all in the demand that the legalization of cannabis must come with racial justice, social justice, economic justice and worker justice,” said Sam Marvin, Director of Organizing at UFCW Local 328.

UFCW Local 328 has scored victories in Rhode Island unionizing the cannabis industry. See:

Ariel Tavares with some final words.

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.

atomicsteve@gmail.com

Freelance Journalist and Visual Artist, and Video Producer for Uprise RI. If you would like to support my work directly my username on CashApp, Venmo, Zelle, and PayPal is "willconns".