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| By Wellvyl Media Editorial

Imagine if You will the Following Scene...

You are preparing for an evening walk with your pup. You get ready, grab the leash, and step outside you light up a perfectly rolled spliff and begin your walk. With a sense of ease and security, you stroll your block giving your usual nods to the neighbors. You see a cop car approaching. Instead of quickly coming up with a plan to toss your newly rolled joint, you raise your hand in a hello.  Nods proceed, life continues.

Sounds like utopia right? Well, get ready because it seems our state is headed towards the path of legalization. Marijuana has been legal for medical use in New York since 2014.  As recreational legalization seems right around the corner one can imagine the financial opportunity that lies within this multi-million dollar industry.

Along with this attainable utopia world comes business opportunity.  Now, we all likely “know a friend”.  Imagine their financial upward mobility if they could take this hustle and turn it into a state-approved, tax benefited, business. Here in lies a potential hiccup. The access to the profits of a “weed world” is proving to be disproportionately in favor of people who identify as white.  With roadblocks of financial capital and lines of legality, it seems this new ‘American Dream’ is yet again curated for a select few.

A Little History Lesson

Weed has been around for a long time and has been used in many different cultures for not only recreation but also spiritual enlightenment and religious gatherings.  This “drug” that is less harmful to your body than alcohol or cigarettes yet it is still tabooed more in our society, what’s up with that? To answer we have to go back in time a little bit. So hop into the DeLorean with Doc as we speed back to the 1970’s War on Drugs.

The Modern War on Drugs

Let’s go back to 1971 when President Nixon began the modern war on drugs. Our friend Mary Jane was less of the concern and the focus was mainly on crack. President Carter actually wanted to decriminalize the use of marijuana during his time in the white house, right before Nixon. Here’s the thing though, when the focus honed in on crack it also honed in on the communities where you could easily find it- black and brown communities that is. Historically black and brown people have been targets of law discrimination.  

The war on drugs has been no exception. We can see this mostly through the Stop and Frisk policy of our city and the disproportionate amount of Latino and Black people who have been subject to. This over-policing has resulted in disproportionate numbers of jailed people in this community; new statistics show that 86% of marijuana arrests in the city are Black or Latino.

Jail Time

If you’re stopped on a New York City street rolled up and ready to light into the night legally you’ll likely suffer at most 15 days in jail and $250 due in fines (and that’s for the third offense) The chips are stacked completely different if you intend to sell. 1 blunt can get you a misdemeanor and 3 months in jail. More than 25g gets you four years and a felony.  (If you are only in possession of the same amount is the same jail time but a misdemeanor.)

Things that make you go ‘hmmm’

Let’s leave the heaviness and revisit our utopia of openly smoking and selling. Dispensaries such as Med Men, a nationwide upscale dispensary, are making their way into our city. Fittingly MedMen is opening on April 20th (4/20) on 5th and 39th and this is just the beginning.

As we know, with a new market comes new financial opportunity. The weed market is no different.

The profit of sales tax retained by the state for marijuana sales in January ‘18 alone was over 12 million dollars.  This is a billion dollar industry. And trust, the systems that have been at play to keep the money to a select few are still going strong.  Check this out. When medical marijuana first became legal in our state the capital you needed to begin to profit from this was ridiculous.  Especially for people who suffer from the generational wealth gaps of our society. It cost $200K for an upfront capital and a 10K application fee for a business to put their name in the hat to be one of the dispensaries the state chose to work with. This leaves little room for entrepreneurs and small Mom and Pop stores without generational wealth or banks backing them.

Freedom of Entrepreneurship for All?

So it’s fair to say that off the bat financial barriers have and will continue to prohibit all people from capitalizing on the weed boom that is coming.  Now let’s go back to our little talk on ‘jail time’. So, imagine you are an entrepreneur ahead of the boom (aka you’ve been slinging for a while) and you find yourself in jail. Yet, you see hope.  After time served the prospect of your business being legally viable and taxable in sight. You can open the shop you always dreamed about (no nods to Bob Marley or Cali in the name please) but then you realize. If you have a felony you are unable to do this. If you are caught selling more than 25g you have a felony. The math isn’t hard here folks. Communities that are being disproportionately caught and arrested for marijuana offenses are serving time, getting out, and finding themselves unable to participate in true profit without penalty from the same thing they were put in jail for.  WTF?

The Future We Hold

It’s clear that the cards in this system are stacked against Latino and Black communities.  As we enter a new era where we can aspire to our utopia smoking scenes let’s also make sure we are studying the methods of how this legalization happens. As well as who it helps and hinders.  In light of a “peace and love” narcotic that promotes ease and community let’s not forget our communities who have been routinely shut out from the opportunity to capitalize and develop financial wealth.

Want some more insight on the War on Drugs and its effects on communities of color? Check out Jay-Z’s short. It seeks to bring a legitimate question to light. "Why are white men poised to get rick on the same thing African-Americans have been going to prison for.”

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