Op-Ed: Bringing Cannabis Equity to The Bronx

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Last month, New York joined fifteen other states in legalizing adult-use cannabis. This landmark piece of legislation passed by the State legislature, which I’m a proud member of, seeks to provide restorative justice to New Yorkers across the state. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) results from years of studies and advocacy to create the gold standard of marijuana legalization legislation. This bill has the opportunity to increase racial equity in the state and provide a pathway to economic recovery post-COVID.

For years, New Yorkers of color have overwhelmingly shouldered the brunt of the racist war on drugs. Across the city, Black New Yorkers were arrested on low-level cannabis charges at eight times the rate of white people. Of the 10 NYC neighborhoods with the highest rates of cannabis-related arrests, four are in The Bronx. In 2019, we voted to decriminalize cannabis. However, people of color still made up 94 percent of cannabis arrests by the NYPD in 2020, even though reports show that white Americans use cannabis at a higher rate. 

Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez

The MRTA presents a historic opportunity that will end years of racially disproportionate policing on Black and Latino communities, giving those same New Yorkers a chance to become entrepreneurs and benefit from the revitalization of neighborhoods. The bill gives back to the people, directing 50 percent of available licenses to social equity applicants. It also allocates 40 percent of tax revenue to establish community reinvestment grants that will go to neighborhoods disenfranchised by the criminalization of cannabis. 

The MRTA is slated to create a new, equitable “green economy.” In 2019 alone, the cannabis industry created over 33,000 jobs nationally. And those jobs come with a median salary that’s 10.7 percent higher than the national average. Bronxites deserve access to these employment opportunities. We must have leaders who are fully committed to implementing the bill to ensure our borough can take full advantage of its benefits. 

In May of 2018, a report estimated a $3.1 billion adult-use cannabis market for New York State, with $1.1 billion generated in New York City alone. . Under the MRTA, New York City could accrue an estimated $336 million in additional tax revenue, which can stabilize our City and State budgets under strain and need relief to prevent cuts to local funding. When the government looks for savings, we all know that communities of color are hurt the worst.

MRTA also allows on-site “consumption sites”– like cigar lounges – where cannabis can be consumed and enjoyed by New Yorkers of age. The economic and employment opportunities are hard to ignore.

Standing up for economic and racial equity is why I am running for borough president.  We need bold leadership to ensure every Bronxite has an opportunity to thrive in the cannabis industry. I will work with my colleagues in the city and state government and at the Office of Cannabis Management to ensure residents can substantially benefit from this new industry. I will bring full transparency to this process to ensure Bronxites remain informed of the possibilities afforded to them by the bill’s robust social equity programs and small business incubators. Under my leadership, I will ensure that the Community Grant Funds are properly allocated to help our community heal. I refuse to let The Bronx be underfunded or overlooked any longer. 

Bronxites can trust that I will accomplish these goals because of my record of supporting policies that uplift New Yorkers and provide equity to our most disenfranchised. I supported “Ban the Box,” preventing employers from inquiring about criminal records on job applications. I also legislation to seal the records of those with low-level cannabis possession offenses. I also voted for legislation to further decriminalize the use of cannabis.   

Cannabis equity cannot wait. Bronxites have suffered for too long under the war on drugs. The MRTA finally allows us a chance to bring economic and restorative justice to those who have been wronged. The Bronx needs a bold, progressive, courageous leader who will get it right. 

I am that leader, and I look forward to working in partnership with stakeholders throughout the borough to ensure The Bronx joins the cannabis industry quickly and equitably.

Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernández represents The Bronx’s 80th District and is a candidate for Bronx Borough President. On Twitter @Fernandez4NY.

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