From incarceration to empowerment: cannabis market promotes Black entrepreneurship

Jodi Sterling | 6/7/2018, 10:59 a.m.
In the midst of the debate on the legalization of marijuana, a Harlem-based nonprofit organization, the Harlem Business Alliance, will ...
States spend $3.6 billion on racially biased marijuana arrests

In the midst of the debate on the legalization of marijuana, a Harlem-based nonprofit organization, the Harlem Business Alliance, will host a community event centered on advocating for Black entrepreneurs having a startup influence in the cannabis industry. The event, entitled Cannabis & Entrepreneurship: Green Revolution 2018, is scheduled to take place June 21 at the National Black Box Theatre from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event will feature various organizations rooted in minority economic empowerment, including the Drug Policy Alliance, Minorities for Medical Marijuana: NY Minority Alliance and the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

The HBA’s initiation of the entrepreneurial event serves as an attempt to reverse the negative mainstream influence of marijuana in the Black community into a more profitable, empowering scenario. According to a recent New York Times report, approximately 4,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in New York City in the first three months of this year, and 89 percent of the people arrested were Black or Hispanic. To change the norm of Black incarceration resulting from marijuana possession, HBA Executive Director Regina Smith hopes that Black entrepreneurs will have a leading presence in the cannabis industry as atonement for the consequential racial disparities from the war on drugs.

Because of Smith’s confidence in the legalization of marijuana in New York, she strongly believes that now is the time for Black men and women to receive entrepreneurial mentorship within the cannabis industry. “The idea was started by the young people at the organization,” she said. To Smith, not only can Black entrepreneurial involvement in the cannabis market promote employment opportunities, but also increased tax revenues can lead to “improving schools, generate generational wealth and increase the net worth in our community.”

In New York City, marijuana policing was reformed to have the NYPD issue summonses instead of arrests for the possession of recreational marijuana. Although the number of arrests have gone down, the summonses for low-level marijuana possession have increased. According to a report by WNYC, there were 21,024 summonses issued for unlawful possession of marijuana in 2017, which has increased by 14 percent since 2015. However, the city is taking action to decrease the number of summonses issued, especially in communities predominantly of color.

Wednesday, June 6, the Southeast Queens Marijuana Reform Town Hall hosted an informational meeting that centered on educating the public about marijuana policing. The event was sponsored to initiate action toward the 105th Police Precinct, which covers five surrounding neighborhoods, including Queens Village and Springfield Gardens, having the highest number of marijuana summonses in New York City since 2009. The event, along with the presence of the Drug Policy Alliance, Grand Council of Guardians and Legal Aid Society as well as the support of four Queens Council members, served as a steppingstone in elevating the discussion of reform toward marijuana enforcement.