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Drug-Policy Advocates Call for Restitution in Marijuana Legalization

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The governor's marijuana-legalization proposal includes assistance to entrepreneurs in communities most affected by the war on drugs. (CascadeCreatives/Adobe Stock)
The governor's marijuana-legalization proposal includes assistance to entrepreneurs in communities most affected by the war on drugs. (CascadeCreatives/Adobe Stock)
January 12, 2021

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Drug-policy advocates say marijuana legalization must include dedicated community reinvestment to address the harms done by the war on drugs.

During his State of the State Address on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo once again said legalization of marijuana for adult use is a priority for this year's legislative session. The governor has proposed offering licensing opportunities and assistance in communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by drug enforcement for decades.

But Melissa Moore, New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said legalization, which is expected to raise more than $300 million-a-year in tax revenue, must also include restitution.

"Directing resources to the neighborhoods and the communities that were within the eye of the target of the drug war for so long," Moore said.

Cuomo says his proposal would generate much needed revenue and provide an opportunity to directly support individuals and communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition.

While every community has suffered economic impacts from the pandemic, Moore emphasized the need for additional resources for recovery will be greatest in areas that were most affected by the criminalization of marijuana.

"Those same communities, because of structural inequities, are facing layer upon layer of additional crisis from COVID-19 deaths and job losses and business closures that are hitting even harder than everywhere else in the state," she said.

She added two thirds of New Yorkers support marijuana legalization, giving the state an opportunity to create a new national model for marijuana reform.

Moore noted the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, first introduced in 2013, shows that the legislature sees economic equity as an important part of marijuana legalization.

"The fact that the bill that is pending in the Legislature includes those components, I think, puts the onus back on the governor to make sure that what moves in the budget session this year also has that comprehensive equity and community reinvestment," she said.

The governor is expected to release more details of his proposal soon.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY