New Yorkers With Marijuana Convictions To Get First Dibs On Pot Shop Licenses

Criminal Justice System
New Yorkers With Marijuana Convictions To Get First Dibs On Pot Shop Licenses

Good news! New York state will soon be rolling out marijuana retail outlets, allowing people to legally buy and sell pot without fear of having their life ruined by a drug conviction. Those who successfully apply for licenses will even be helped out in their new careers with storefronts leased by the state, greatly reducing their start-up cost. Even better news — the first retail licenses will all go to people who either have marijuana convictions themselves or who have had a family member with one.

While other states have been generous in terms of ensuring that those with past marijuana convictions have been able to get licenses, it's been difficult for them to raise the capital necessary to start those businesses, and they've frequently been outmaneuvered by larger corporations and rich people looking to cash in.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to announce this new policy today, as well as a plan to invest $200 million into this program — which is just a fraction of the $1.25 billion the state stands to bring in on marijuana taxes in the next six years. Not to mention all of the money it stands to save on not arresting, convicting, and incarcerating people for possessing or selling marijuana. In 2010, New York City alone spent $75 million on arresting and jailing people for marijuana convictions.

The program will mostly benefit those from communities affected by the drug war, because let's be real here — even in the '90s, practically no one in my suburban Rochester, New York, high school was getting arrested for possession or sale of any drug, despite how many of us were literally spending our off-campus free periods smoking pot in a public park.

Via New York Times:

Under the law passed last March that permitted the possession and recreational use of marijuana in limited amounts by adults, half of all marijuana-related licensesincluding those for growers and other parts of the supply chainare earmarked for women, minorities, distressed farmers, veterans and “individuals who have lived in communities disproportionally impacted” by the drug war.

In New York, Black and Latino residents have for years been far more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than white, non-Hispanic people.

Mr. [Chris] Alexander said he expected between 100 and 200 licenses to go to people who were convicted of a marijuana-related offense before the drug was legalized, or those who have “a parent, guardian, child, spouse, or dependent” with a marijuana conviction.

This is hardly just a generous giveaway — the fact is, the state owes these people after ruining their lives, and this is a fraction of what they are owed. This is restitution. Frankly, it should probably go further and bar anyone without a conviction from obtaining a license for the next 10 years or so.

People really don't realize the effect that even a minor conviction can have on someone's life and life trajectory. Studies have shown that even probation and even just being arrested can have a significant toll on one's mental and physical health and leads to increased risk of substance abuse. Probation certainly has an affect on one's ability to hold down a job, because it affects their ability to travel for work and certainly being thrown in jail over any minor thing — including mistakes on the part of the probation officer, the justice system or monitoring devices — makes it difficult to stay employed.

Any kind of conviction messes with your life and can put you in a hole it can be very difficult to get yourself out of, even if you have resources. People were put in a hole they never should have been in to begin with, and which they would not be in now, given the new laws. The least those who put them there can do is throw them a rope.

And even though we are likely to see those whose communities have not been devastated by the drug war pitching a fit over how they are being discriminated against, this certainly doesn't mean that a lot of rich white people are not going to be cashing in. Because those people don't open shops (for the most part), they invest in them and will also be investing in other marijuana-related start-up companies. Let's just hope though, that most of the windfall goes to those who have lost the most.

[New York Times]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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