Ever since cannabis use was legalized in more than a dozen states and recreational dispensaries started popping up across the country, one conversation has consistently taken place in Black circles: Why are white people controlling policy and the industry, and what about all the Black people disproportionately locked up for marijuana use for decades?
Well, it appears the state of New York is attempting to take baby steps towards rectifying these historic and current wrongs by nominating Black officials to head its Office of Cannabis Management and Cannabis Control Board, as well as acknowledging the social justice issues surrounding cannabis and cannabis politics.
According to a Wednesday press release, New York Governor Kathy Hochul has announced the nominations of Chris Alexander for Executive Director of the Office of Cannabis Management and former Assembly member Tremaine Wright for Chair of the Cannabis Control Commission.
“New Yorkers have been clear that cannabis is a critical criminal justice issue and that the communities that have been most impacted should have a crucial role in governing the new market and the larger regulatory institution, which historically has not been the case in other states that have legalized cannabis,” Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance Kassandra Frederique, who is also Black, said in a statement. “By moving swiftly to establish the adult use cannabis program after delays under her predecessor and nominating leaders who have long been involved in the fight for marijuana justice in New York, Governor Hochul is sending a strong signal that the landmark racial and economic justice provisions we fought so hard for in the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act will be taken seriously and implemented accordingly.”
Frederique also said that Alexander and Wright “both understand the deep harm that criminalization has caused to individuals and communities—especially communities of color—across the state. Their past work has reflected a commitment to working with people who have been directly impacted by prohibition and demonstrated a belief in evidence-based policies that center equity and justice.”
So, who are Alexander and Wright, and what “past work” have they done to reflect their commitment to working with Black people and people of color who America’s racist justice system has impacted?
According to the press release, Alexander formerly worked for the Drug Policy Alliance as a policymaker and he was “deeply involved” in the creation of the aforementioned Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act—which legalized the adult use of cannabis in the state. Alexander has been hailed for using his role in the crafting of the legislation to “ensure it centered racial and economic justice,” according to the release.
As for Wright, the former assemblywoman used her time in office to sponsor legislation including bills involving minimum wage rates; a bill requiring the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to place incarcerated parents in facilities close to where their children live and a bill to establish an automatic voter registration process for New York voters. She’s also the current Director of the Office of Financial Inclusion and Empowerment in the NYS Department of Financial Services.
So, nominating Black people with backgrounds in social justice to take charge of these programs and policies is definitely a good look, and hopefully, it will aid in the fight for racial and economic equity as it relates to marijuana use, regulation and the booming cannabis industry.
America still has a lot of work to do in these areas, but this is certainly a start.