By KIRSTYN BRENDLEN
New York inches closer and closer to outright legalizing recreational use of marijuana. But if and when that happens, Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., believes there should be some ground rules established first.
Although legalization failed in a recent attempt, New York voters did decriminalize possession, meaning someone caught with small amounts of marijuana is only subject to a violation most comparable to a parking ticket rather than a misdemeanor.
With all eyes on the 2020 legislative session in Albany — especially when it comes to negotiating next year’s budget — back in the Bronx, Diaz has outlined several recommendations he believes are essential in making legalized marijuana work in New York.
It starts, he said, with community reinvestment and licensing equity that would, among others, especially benefit people of color, whom he says have been disproportionately punished during what advocates call marijuana “prohibition.”
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Community reinvestment would redirect some of the profits of the cannabis industry into community-building efforts like new programs and grants, according to Melissa Moore, deputy state director for the advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance.
“There are entities across the state that would work with people who were directly impacted,” she said. “People … would be able to put in applications for grants for youth programs, after-school development, re-entry services, and job training. Anything that’s responsive to the legacy of harm from prohibition.”
Last year, comptroller Scott Stringer released a report identifying neighborhoods hardest-hit by marijuana possession arrests. Those neighborhoods included Marble Hill locally, as well as Highbridge, and Concourse. Seven of the 10 neighborhoods also were among the lowest-income neighborhoods in the city.
So if recreational marijuana is legalized, those neighborhoods should be the first to benefit, Moore said.
“Those neighborhoods have been targeted and have suffered in the war on marijuana,” said Eli Northrup, a policy counsel for Bronx Defenders, a non-profit that provides criminal defense from its base in Melrose. “If and when marijuana becomes legal, we need to repair those communities.”
Diaz also wants to ensure businesses involved in the cannabis industry — which Moore called “cannabusinesses” — are able to work with banks, both to take out business-starting loans and to deposit money. Right now, banks are mostly prohibited from working within a legalized industry, because they are federally regulated, and marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.
Hillary Peckham, founder and