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Legalized marijuana: what does it mean for communities harmed by War on Drugs?

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Giving both economic and equity reasons, Gov. Andrew Cuomo came out strongly in favor of marijuana legalization for adult recreation in the state Wednesday afternoon.

Cuomo acknowledged drug laws have disproportionately affected underserved communities.

“I think too many people have been imprisoned and incarcerated and punished,” he said. “Too many of those people have been Black, Latino and poor. It’s exaggerated the injustice of the justice system.”

The State Budget Office estimates revenue from marijuana businesses could reach $300 million. This begs the question: how can legalized marijuana be a boon to Western New York?

Registered Nurse and Political Activist Katrinna Martin Bordeaux said it starts with equitable business practices in the marijuana industry.

“We also [need to] ensure that those that have suffered the brunt of and been incarcerated by doing something similar to what California did which was 40% of those that have a cannabis dispensary, in terms of licensing, 40% had to go convicted felons,” she said.

With California’s population being twice that of New York, Martin-Bordeaux said 20% of licenses in New York should go to those previously incarcerated for drug crimes.

Legalization at federal level, she said, will open more opportunities for employment.

“That would open up avenues for communities of color to actually get more into the construction trade and other industries right now that basically utilize drug testing,” she said. “Specifically, THC to keep people out of particular industries.”

Because of the Democratic majority in both houses of the State Legislature, Martin-Bordeaux is confident any legalization bill will pass in the next legislative session.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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