Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined other New York policymakers and advocates on Sunday for the launch of the Bronx Cannabis Hub, a community center providing resources for residents interested in social equity opportunities in the legal cannabis industry. Schumer, who last week introduced a much-anticipated bill to federally legalize marijuana in the U.S. Senate, said the new center would provide needed support to the community and can establish New York as a leader in cannabis policy reform.
“This cannabis hub should serve as a model,” Schumer said at Sunday’s opening. “Not just to New York City and not just to New York State. Let there be hubs like this throughout the country.”
The Bronx Cannabis Hub will provide resources for residents of the Bronx who have endured decades of the harmful effects of cannabis prohibition policies and enforcement. The center is a project of The Bronx Defenders, a public defender non-profit that is transforming how low-income people in the Bronx are represented in the legal system, in partnership with The Bronx Community Foundation. In addition to Schumer, the weekend launch of the cannabis hub was attended by New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera, Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson, Bronx community leaders and cannabis policy reform advocates.
Social Equity in Cannabis Legalization
New York’s 2021 law that legalized adult-use cannabis, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), includes social equity provisions to ensure that members of communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs have a path to business ownership in the regulated cannabis industry.
“As public defenders, we have seen first-hand the impact marijuana criminalization and its racist enforcement by the NYPD has had on the people in the Bronx,” Justine Olderman, executive director of The Bronx Defenders, said in a statement to High Times. “For decades, a single marijuana arrest could result in a person losing their job, healthcare, home, and even separation from their children and deportation from their families.”
At Sunday’s launch, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Kassandra Frederique said the new resource center in the Bronx is “a true community resource supporting social equity in New York’s legal cannabis landscape.”
“During the decade-long fight to pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act we were clear that the people and communities most impacted by devastating enforcement of the marijuana arrest crusade should be those to benefit from the legal industry,” said Frederique. “The Bronx Cannabis Hub will be a crucial part of fulfilling that shared vision and opening up opportunities and avenues for community members – especially those who have been directly impacted – to thrive in New York’s new green era.”
Addressing the Harms of Prohibition
Social equity provisions in the MRTA include the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions, investment of 40% of cannabis taxes in communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and equity in the licensing of cannabis businesses. The New York Office of Cannabis Management is currently drafting regulations for the program and state officials have announced that the first 100 to 200 licenses for cannabis retailers will go to businesses that qualify as social equity applicants.
“Communities of color in The Bronx have suffered disproportionately from the harms of cannabis prohibition, from arrest and incarceration to job loss and eviction,” said Desmon Lewis, co-founder of the Bronx Community Foundation. “The Bronx Community Foundation is proud to partner with The Bronx Defenders on The Bronx Cannabis Hub, a first-of-its-kind initiative that will right some of these historic wrongs, by helping our communities to participate in the new, legal cannabis industry. In doing so, The Hub will further The Foundation’s goals of advancing neighborhood stability, solving systemic and institutional challenges, and building generational wealth.”
The Bronx Cannabis Hub will also launch a clinic in partnership with cannabis law attorney Cristina Buccola, with the participation of pro bono law firms and support from the New York Cannabis Project, to assist eligible candidates with the licensing process and create educational programming.
“Now that cannabis is legal, a new economy is taking shape, and the communities most harmed by this failed drug war must be at the forefront,” Olderman added. “We are proud to join The Bronx Community Foundation and our other partners today to launch The Bronx Cannabis Hub, a new resource that will provide critical training, guidance, and legal support to turn historical harm into economic opportunity.”