By Staff Writer
“It’s not a question of ‘if’ but ’when’ marijuana will be legalized. I just want to make sure Black and Brown people are ready to participate in and take advantage of the economic opportunities created by a legal cannabis industry,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes
That’s why the Majority Leader, who represents Buffalo’s141st District, and is the author of the legislation aimed at legalizing marijuana, is hosting a series of workshops aimed at educating the public about the social and economic impact and opportunities of legal adult use marijuana.
The next scheduled workshop, “Cannabiz Convo 3: Get In Where You fit In, Finding Your Seat at the Table,” takes place Saturday, October 26 from 10a.m.-2p.m. at Medaille College’s Main Lecture Hall, 18
“Analysts believe that this is a $51 billion industry with only $6 billion that’s now in the legal markets. If it’s that much money in the underground market and it’s about to go above ground, I want to ensure that people are ready so that when it goes above ground they can hit the ground running as opposed to allowing it to go above ground and then we try to figure out where we fit in,” Peoples-Stokes said.
New York decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 1977, up to 25 grams or nearly an ounce. But Peoples-Stokes says that didn’t prevent Black and Hispanic people from being arrested in disproportionate numbers due to stop and frisk. In June, Peoples-Stokes passed legislation (S.6579A/A.8420) that further decriminalizes marijuana, closing the stop and frisk loophole by reducing the penalty for unlawful possession of marijuana to a fine, and by creating a process for individuals who have been convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana to have their records expunged. It was signed into law by Governor Cuomo on July 29th.
“People no longer need to fear jail time and a criminal record for small amounts of marijuana that used to get you a felony conviction. You will not get arrested for that,” said Peoples-Stokes.
Under the new law, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana as a violation subject to a $50 fine. Possession of between one and two ounces, once a Class B misdemeanor, is now a violation punishable by up to $200 fine. More than two ounces would still be considered a crime and smoking marijuana in public would be considered a violation not a misdemeanor.
The Majority Leader believes this is a major step towards reversing the devastating impact of the so-called “war on drugs” which primarily targeted Black and Brown people.
“These convictions of low level marijuana crimes actually prevented people from getting jobs,” Peoples-Stokes said. “It prevented them from getting access to student loans, barred them from living in public housing and it essentially forced them into a lifestyle that unfortunately created recidivism.”
Peoples-Stokes has been fighting to legalize adult use marijuana for the past six years. Although it didn’t pass this last legislative session, she remains optimistic the state will eventually legalize adult use marijuana. New York is not a referendum state, so the proposal will never end up on ballots for voters to choose; it must be passed via the state’s legislative process.
In the meantime, she wants to make sure major corporations aren’t the only one that benefit from legal cannabis and Black and Brown residents are poised and ready for the “green rush.”
“There are any number of opportunities and people to figure out what they like doing, what career are you in? Are you an attorney? An accountant? Then you can help others in structuring their business around cannabis.
Are you a graphic design artist? No matter what you like doing there’s going to be opportunities for you in this industry. We just want to make sure people can find their seat at the table, and get in where they fit in.