Better than New York? Cannabis legalization in RI needs to center social and economic justice, say advocates“In any legalization legislation we must ensure that the past and future harms of the criminalization of cannabis endured by thousands of Rhode Islanders are repaired,” said Cherie Cruz, Co-Founder Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island. “In order to equitably do so we must include automatic expungement of all cannabis related offenses and provide a strong social equity program for the legal cannabis market that intentionally includes those who have been directly impacted and criminalized by this failed war on drugs.”
Published on May 7, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist
Reclaim RI, Yes We Cannabis RI, BLM RI PAC, UFCW Local 328, and the Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island held a press conference on Thursday calling on Rhode Island legislators to pass a cannabis legalization law that incorporates key racial and economic justice provisions:
- The setting aside of half of the legal recreational cannabis market for “social equity licenses,” which are businesses operated by working-class people, people of color, and people harmed by the war on drugs.
- Half of all social equity licenses should be reserved specifically for worker-owned cannabis cooperatives.
- The automatic expungement of marijuana-related offenses from criminal records.
- Union rights for all cannabis industry workers.
Current legalization proposals in the Senate and from the governor still fall short, said Daniel Denvir, who co-chairs ReclaimRI. The cannabis legalization legislation recently passed in New York sets a new standard, noted Denvir, who added that Rhode Island could do even better.
The New York law automatically expunges cannabis-related offenses from criminal records, and a “sizable portion of business licenses would be reserved for minority business owners, disabled veterans and distressed farmers, among others,” notes the New York Times. Smoking marijuana will be allowed anywhere it is currently legal to smoke tobacco, and ultimately, “users will be allowed to cultivate up to six plants at home, indoors or outdoors, and a maximum of twelve plants total per household.”
In Rhode Island, Governor Daniel McKee‘s legislation would only allowing the smoking of cannabis in a residence you own. Smoking in a rented apartment or outside would still be illegal, which advocates note will favor homeowners while criminalizing renters.
One area of improvement Rhode Island can implement is that the New York law doesn’t do enough to help worker owned cooperatives. “We may have great wins in this legislation including 10 licences, including a co-operative license to cultivate, process, and manufacture. However, co-ops cannot own a dispensary or social consumption lounge license,” High Mi Madre told the New York Network of Worker Cooperatives.
“We know Black people were especially targeted by the state, and that’s why when we demand racial justice, we must demand economic justice alongside it,” said Kinverly Dicupe, Co-Organizing Director of Reclaim RI. “Because if you leave the most impacted people to languish in poverty, with their rights stripped away from them, at the same time that large corporations, people who haven’t spent a day in jail, are set to make millions off the marijuana industry, there ain’t no justice in that justice. We need a strong social equity licensing program, including worker-owned cannabis coops, so that the everyday people who have suffered from the prohibition of marijuana can benefit from its legalization.”
“The ‘War on Drugs’ has been a primary driver of mass criminalization, incarceration, and law enforcement violence targeting Black people over the past five decades—devastating families, communities, and generations,” said Harrison Tuttle, Executive Director of Black Lives Matter RI PAC. “This summer, and over the course of this year, legislators and the governor himself have said time and again that Black Lives Matter. BLM RI PAC is calling for policymakers to pass legislation that will guarantee equity, fair labor practices, and a guarantee that half of all cannabis retail business licenses be reserved for communities historically affected by marijuana prohibition.”
“At UFCW Local 328, we are proud to partner with hardworking cannabis workers in cultivation and dispensaries in Rhode Island and Massachusetts,” said Sam Marvin, Director of Organizing at UFCW Local 328. “As Rhode Island policymakers look towards expanding legalized cannabis, we strongly support measures that will provide social equity licensing, automatically expunge cannabis records, create worker co-ops, and enact labor peace agreements. This approach will help remove barriers that perpetuate poverty and racial inequities and will open doors for greater economic and social opportunities.”
“In any legalization legislation we must ensure that the past and future harms of the criminalization of cannabis endured by thousands of Rhode Islanders are repaired,” said Cherie Cruz, Co-Founder Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island. “In order to equitably do so we must include automatic expungement of all cannabis related offenses and provide a strong social equity program for the legal cannabis market that intentionally includes those who have been directly impacted and criminalized by this failed war on drugs.”
“It is critical to realize that in state after state that has legalized recreational marijuana so far – wealthy people and corporations that are getting bigger and bigger by the day have dominated the legal marijuana market,” said Daniel Denvir. “Contrast that to the people who have suffered under the drug war and under marijuana prohibition.”
“Legalization is not enough,” said Rob Pena, an aspiring cannabis coop owner. “With legalization there needs to be recognition for wrongs in the past. There was never a war on drugs. It was a war on us, minorities. And countless people and their families have suffered as a result of this farce.”
“They say Black Lives Matter, not to me it doesn’t, not in this state” said Jason Rocha Sr, from the Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island. “All my life I’ve been harassed for smoking weed. I tried to go into the Army. I was on probation. I was denied because I had a weed charge.”
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