Sixty years after the March on Washington and 157 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1866, New York stands at the forefront of a new civil rights battle for economic justice. A recent lawsuit challenges the implementation of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), casting a shadow of uncertainty and threatening the progress towards addressing human rights injustices that Black and Brown communities have endured, especially during the “war on drugs.”

To add insult to injury, the lawsuit is being supported by none other than the Coalition for Access to Regulated & Safe Cannabis (CARSC). According to reports, CARSC consists of at least four of the state’s “registered organizations” (its legacy medical marijuana operators) — Acreage Holdings, PharmaCann, Green Thumb Industries and Curaleaf. Although they all claim to support social equity, the truth is big cannabis corporations are allocating significant resources to circumvent these initiatives that level the playing field for Black and Brown communities to build generational wealth.

Enacted in 2021, MRTA was designed to rectify the harms caused by New York’s draconian drug laws that disproportionately impacted communities of color. Under MRTA, the state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) prioritized social and economic equity applicants, reserving retail dispensary licenses for justice-involved individuals and nonprofits aimed at helping those most affected by racially motivated drug laws. big cannabis corporations are trying to circumvent these initiatives that level the playing field for Black and Brown communities to build generational wealth.

Promises were made by OCM that they have been unable to realize for us and our communities. The inability to deliver on these promises threatens the cycle of intergenerational wealth, considering the time and resources expended on turning dreams into reality. For more than 30 years, I have dedicated my life to advocating for and uplifting voices within my community. I founded LIFE Camp (Love Ignites Freedom through Education) to help youth and families impacted by these harsh drug laws and the war on drugs that occurred in my community.

As the first Black woman and founder of a Black-owned nonprofit to receive a Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary license (CAURD), my dream has been deferred due to those favoring big cannabis corporations over remedying New York’s past pain. My face, likeness, and organization were used to promote the CAURD program, but when it was time to benefit, I found myself unsupported. My team worked double and triple time to establish the dispensary, compromising our focus on critical work.

We received no state financial support, and now we face uncertainty. We were promised a prioritized market share to protect us from big corporate cannabis, but now we may not be able to proceed. We entered contracts and committed to life-changing opportunities that might no longer be possible.

We relied on OCM’s promise that we could open and operate. Leveraging ourselves as a nonprofit, we became the first federally recognized nonprofit to hold a cannabis license, a first for New York. However, the American dream and New York State’s promise of supporting community-based businesses have failed. Entities are working to halt economic opportunities for those burdened by harmful drug policies.

Cannabis corporations are driving the disenfranchisement of the same people who have suffered under these policies and are now in a legal market. The collateral consequences of pausing MRTA and CAURD perpetuate the same harm families are still recovering from. As a justice advocate, community leader, and first Black woman-owned licensee, I fear irreparable harm as the inability to become operational continues. New Yorkers who have invested in compliance, location preparation, staff training, and community education will suffer if the lawsuit’s restraining order is upheld.

We cannot afford to wait and let calculated legal challenges stifle economic freedom, social justice and empowerment. We cannot allow big corporate cannabis to undermine the goals of the MRTA. I urge you to support MRTA and CAURD and fight for real social equity, social change and substantive social justice. Blocking these opportunities is perpetuating ongoing efforts to remedy generational disenfranchisement and deprived economic opportunity.

The war on drugs devastated many of our communities, but now we have a chance at restoration. We can’t let big multi-state operators rewrite our narrative and push out those who’ve suffered the most. As the daughter of a sergeant who gave his life in the Vietnam War for this country, I urge you to stand resilient, just as he did. When we unite, our collective strength can overcome any corporate giant. Let’s ensure the benefits of this green revolution uplift those most impacted. Together, let’s ensure our city’s future is equitable and just.

Ford is the founder & CEO of Kush & Kemet, LLC / LIFE Camp, Inc.

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 Sixty years after the March on Washington and 157 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1866, New York stands at the forefront of a new civil rights battle for economic justice. A recent lawsuit challenges the implementation of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), casting a shadow of uncertainty and threatening the progress towards addressing human rights injustices that Black and Brown communities have endured, especially during the “war on drugs.”  Read More  

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