Black and Latino Lawmakers are demanding that money go to communities that were targeted in the “War on Drugs.” Some clergy members take it a step further declaring no legalization at all.
Just months ago, legalized recreational marijuana in New York State seemed to be….all but a forgone conclusion, but then, the political tide turned.
African American and Latino lawmakers vowed they would NOT approve the legalization... unless the State had a plan… in writing…in advance…of how communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs would benefit? How revenue from the lucrative three Billion dollar marijuana business would be reinvested in minority communities?
I sat there in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, not far from the busy shopping area of Southern Blvd, in the office of New York State Senator Luis R. Sepúlveda. Sepúlveda pulls no punches in telling me: “The devil is always in the details.” The State Senator says it was impossible to approve recreational marijuana without economic gains for the community.
“We have our communities of color that were terribly impacted, the inequalities of convictions related to marijuana were in black and brown communities, so it would be inherently unjust and unfair for us as legistors, especially those that represent communities of color to allow these large companies, large investors, to benefit after our kids were put in jail, have the scarlet letter of marijuana convictions, it would be inherently unfair for our communities not be be in a position to economically benefit from this new industry and that is what we are fighting for as legislators.” NY State Senator Luis Sepúlveda
“It would be very difficult…I would say almost impossible for me for me as a senator to vote for legislation that would legalize…but did not have that component, the economic benefits…money set aside for investments…for young entrepreneurs in our communities to be able to benefit.” -NY State Senator Luis Sepúlveda
Senator Sepúlveda declared the other component is restorative justice. To seal records. Clear records of people that were convicted of marijuana convictions.
I wondered why it’s so important that everything had to be done in advance before approving recreational marijuana.
“Because you never leave anything to chance when it comes to legislation and policy with government…. because when you do that…. you have a lot of unintended consequences. I have no doubt that if we’re NOT specific, the big companies will gobble up the industry. Your hearing now, cigarette companies that are starting to immerse themselves in legalization of marijuana and they have an immense economic power. So we have to frame it now…the legislation has to be specific so that young men and women in black and brown communities are the first ones in line to benefit from this community.” -NY State Senator Luis Sepúlveda
Long-time NYC community leader Bertha Lewis…believes the law makers were right to demand concessions BEFORE the marijuana legislation is passed.
“What we have learned from other states is that there’s a lot of rhetoric about diversity….a lot of rhetoric for being just… for those communities that had been affected by the war on drugs, and mass incarceration, rhetoric!!!” -Bertha Lewis/Founder of the Black Institute
“Unless it is written into the legislation day one, before you start spending revenue for subways, before you start spending revenue for the general fund, there must be substantial investment in communities of color who have borne the brunt.” -Bertha Lewis/Founder of the Black Institute
“There needs to be substantial access to medical marijuana. Right now, medical is legal here in New York State, but Black and Brown people can’t have access to it! There need to be treatment, there needs to be education, and oh by the way, as you know… the Black Institute, we are very concerned about minority and women business entrepreneurs. There has to be a way for MWBE’s to participate in this multi-billion dollar industry” -Bertha Lewis/Founder of the Black Institute
“There needs to be expungement of people’s records. Don’t just tell me your going to have something sealed, because we know about things get unsealed.” -Bertha Lewis/Founder of the Black Institute
“SO equity has to be day one before you start spending any other tax revenue…our communities have to come first.
Without missing a beat, Bertha Lewis then stated this:
“You can call it reparations, you can call it whatever you want, but that has to be the approach in New York State.” -Bertha Lewis/Founder of the Black Institute
“Let us learn from the other states. Let us learn how they fell short on diversity and equity and make sure that New York State does it right.” Bertha Lewis/Founder of the Black Institute.
“The thing is, sometimes when we are sausage making in the legislature… you say something is better than nothing…..no, no, no, no This is what we have been given. A big plate of nothing. Promises….and we’ll have best efforts, and this is our goal… NO!!! Unless it is actually written in the law, then Black and Brown legislators need to say no. We represent the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.” -Bertha Lewis/Founder of the Black Institute.
“We know that the medical guys, and the big corporations, Pepsi Cola, Amazon…they're all waiting with bated breath to get in on this industry. So unless our elected of color stand their ground to make sure that equity is day one, nothing should be passed.” -Bertha Lewis/Founder of the Black Institute.
Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan,Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington)
Now New York and New Jersey are looking to join them. Elected officials and community leaders also want assurances that people of color will receive some of the licenses to sell marijuana.
Legalization could yield $772 million in tax revenue for the city and state annually, according to the New York City Comptroller. Aides to New York governor Andrew Cuomo who is considering a run for the White House said details about who would get access to licenses, and how the state would spend revenue from the industry, should be written into regulations AFTER legalization takes place.
I met with some African American Pastors from around the State. All four are against legalization. Period! Pastor Carl Washington is one of the most prominent African American pastors in the entire State of New York. Pastor Washington is the leader of the New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Harlem.
“Let’s say it passes and we legalize it, how do we keep 10, 11, 12, 13 years from smoking. We already know in this country you can’t them from drinking alcohol, you can’t keep them from smoking cigarettes… Oh, Oh, there will be a percentage given to the community, to make the community better. How we making the community better by legalizing things that….watch this…that not only are illegal, but immoral.” -Pastor Carl Washington/New Mount Zion Baptist Church
Pastor Washington is also the President of a statewide organization, the Empire Baptist of the United Missionary Baptist Association.
“Remember when we passed the lottery, we said the money was going to go towards education! Well has education gotten better in the State of New York? No its gotten worse!…. So with all the money that is being made… When we brought the casinos into New York State…the money was supposed to be used to help with infrastructure. Has the infrastructure gotten better, No! So we’re going to legalize this now. -Pastor Carl Washington/New Mount Zion Baptist Church
“Talk to me Pastor about the economics of all this?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)
“The economics of it is this. If you grew up in a Black Community, I’m from East Baltimore, that’s where I was raised. East Baltimore in the late 60’s and early 70’s, was decimated by heroin. Heroin came into our communities in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and destroyed families and neighborhoods. A place where you used to have upwardly mobile people moving into the middle class became a war zone. Many of the things people saw on the television series were actually things that were true from the 60’s, 70’s, and even 80’s. Economically how this will impact our communities? Well It will impact our communities in two ways. One it takes a source of revenue away from young men and women that have been using it illegally so what do they do to supplement the income that they lose because you legalize marijuana. What do they turn too? They not going to turn to medicine. They’re not going to politics! So what are they going to turn too? That means they have to turn to crack, heroin, or some other drug by you making that legal. So economically it impacts the community because you changed the game. You changed the game from a misdemeanor to a felony. So what are we going to do with those young people that feel they have no other way to earn a living but to sell drugs. Now the drug that they were selling to make ends meet, have become legal so now they move from a misdemeanor to a felony!” -Pastor Carl Washington/New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Harlem and President of the Empire Baptist of the United Missionary Baptist Association
“Just like that?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)
“Just like that. So now your creating something in the community that could result in more violence, more deaths, more harm to the family, and more confusion in the community which is already confused.” -Pastor Carl Washington/New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Harlem and President of the Empire Baptist of the United Missionary Baptist Association
So Marijuana….3 billion dollar a year industry, your saying there remains more questions than answers?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)
“Yes. Question, for instance….their talking about giving a percentage to the community…ok…to help the community, we need to be asking the question ok, what is the percentage? And what’s the percentage going to be used for in the community. Remember when we passed the lottery, we said the money was going to go towards education! Well has education gotten better in the State of New York? No its gotten worse! So with all the money that is being made… When we brought the casinos into New York State…the money was supposed to be used to help with infrastructure. Has the infrastructure gotten better, No! So we’re going to legalize this now… and so the game is going to change just because you said it’s going to change. The game isn’t going to change and you said it’s going to change twice before. Now we have a bill on the floor about legalizing prostitution. Is the game going to change!!!! Oh, Oh, there will be a percentage given to the community, to make the community better. How we making the community better by legalizing things that….watch this…that not only are illegal, but immoral.” -Pastor Carl Washington/New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Harlem and President of the Empire Baptist of the United Missionary Baptist Association
The Rev. William Gillison is the Pastor of Mt. Olive, the largest African American Church in upstate Buffalo New York.
“Number one, I’m glad that the African American Lawmakers have banded together to take a stand against the sale of of marijuana until economically some things happen. Personally, I wish they would take a stance against marijuana PERIOD becoming legal in our state.”- Pastor William Gillison of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York
Pastor Gillison says he’s concerned about another cost of legalized marijuana…one that you can’t calculate in dollars and cents, the human toll.
“That when you begin to flood our communities with illicit drugs, o.k…..then those are the kinds of things that our society is going to have to deal with…o.k…not only now, but for generations yet to come. Alright….And I think we are not looking at a lot of things.” — Pastor William Gillison of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York
“I wish, I wish that some of our lawmakers would understand and take a look at what’s happening in Colorado. And also how marijuana is being marketed. When I say that…because it’s being marketed not only in the form of weed where you smoke…there’s also candy…o.k…donuts, pastry….how do we those kind of things out of the hands of our children? We don’t. That’s what happens, ok.” — Pastor William Gillison of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York
“So the devastation on that side, I just need we’re asking for a problem that we do not have right now. Let me just say this. I think the problem will be magnified over a thousand percent as to what we do have right now. We’re dealing with some mild things right now, but when you open that floodgate, it’s like opening Pandora’s Box. So I do wish….I think our elected officials…those are people of color…I do wish…I think they are on to something in this sense, Economics has not caught up with the communities that they serve, and I think that right now, with the positions that some key individuals hold…who are African Americans, I think they really need to sit down and have a good conversation, dealing with this whole idea of economics and the Black Community, because I don’t think their ever going to have this chance again in government.” — Pastor William Gillison of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York
“Let me put it this way while we are thinking about some things. The Governor really doesn’t have the power that we think the Governor has. Alright! When the Governor gets up, and he talks about well I’m going to sign….I’m going to make this law….o.k…he can not do anything until the senate and the Assembly gives him a bill to sign….and so the real power lies in the Assembly and the Senate, alright…the ball is in their court o.k. Their either going to do something at this point, that is going to be a benefit to all New Yorkers or their going to send this down a road that is going to be devastating not only to the African American community and other communities of color, but to the State itself, alright! The examples are out there. There already out there. We need to take a look at what’s happening, not only with the accumulation of dollars, but take a look at the negative side. No one is talking about the negative side of all of this. — Pastor William Gillison of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York
“Again, to regress to your original question, I’m glad the African American politicians are really taking a good look at this thing because our communities never benefit from this stuff. Quite a while ago, they said we were going to benefit from the money going into Lotto, and all of those types of things. Has our education gotten any better? No! Where’s the money going, I have no idea, but it certainly isn’t going into educating our Children. That in itself is evident from the kind of…if I would put it this way in a business term, from the kind of product that is being produced out of our schools. Our children can not compete. They go to college, and they can’t even make it through the first year, so we need a lot of fixing here. I do pray that this will be a wake up call, even for our Black political representatives, that they understand the power that they have….but not only the power, the responsibility in having that power, and sometimes I hate to call it power, but the influence that they can now bring to help the communities in which they serve.” -Pastor William Gillison of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York.
Daily Marijuana Use And Highly Potent Weed Linked To Psychosis
This is what an NPR story said: “There are some serious health risks associated with frequent use. One of the more troubling ones is the risk of having a psychotic episode. Click here to read it.
And once marijuana is legal….what will be the impact on the black market?
Rev. Geraldine Harris is the Pastor of the Greater File Chapel Baptist Church also in Harlem New York.
“I feel they should block it, not just for now, but for continuation….It’s supposed to be so that it will cut down our people from going to jail for minor charges, but now they will be going to jail or hospitals.” -Pastor Geraldine Harris/Greater File Chapel Baptist Church in Harlem
“So pretty soon underground opportunities to score marijuana will be available but of course it’s not going to be of the highest grad, it’s going to be cut with things that are detrimental to their health.” -Pastor Geraldine Harris/Greater File Chapel Baptist Church in Harlem
“Where do you stand on Legalized Marijuana?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)
“I’m against it. Simply because I feel that black and brown people will be hurt the most. They’re not going to benefit from the legalization. It’s going to be another weight around their neck.” -Pastor Geraldine Harris/Greater File Chapel Baptist Church in Harlem
I asked Pastor Harris to go full circle, to tell me once again why she is against legalizing marijuana?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)
“I’m against legalizing marijuana because I feel that Black and Brown people will be hurt the most because it will not be within their reach, where they can actually comfortable use it. It will be worse for them then, than it is now.” -Pastor Geraldine Harris/Greater File Chapel Baptist Church in Harlem
The Rev. Larry Camp is the Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Brooklyn, and also actually started a Charter School for children. He is a well respected Community and City leader.
“What is it that they are selling within the context of marijuana?That’s the thing!” Pastor Larry Camp/Bethlehem Baptist Church in Brooklyn
“The lawmakers are saying that we are not going to sign off on unless we benefit, well then what do we benefit from? And what would be the after effect if those who engage in it, and whatever is in that marijuana, that’s not good, now you have another problem. Now you’ve ok’ed something that could possibly kill or be detriment to someone’s health.” -Pastor Rev. Dr. Larry Camp/Bethlehem Baptist Church in Brooklyn
“Pastor as it relates to marijuana, the community and so on, what’s your take on all of this that is going on?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)
“Well the thing with the marijuana subject is really harpens back to prohibition years in terms of liquor. During the time before prohibition took place, there were people particularly those on the East Side who were making liquor, and those who were in the African American Community, were also making liquor in juke joints. Of course the government put a seal on it….certainly having a part of that and so they could have that. But at the same time, the liquor became watered down, so they were selling a cheap brand liquor. Same thing holds true with marijuana, but the difference is, is that whatever it is laced with, and this should be important to people who do engage….I don’t agree with the legalizing it because I think what is going to happen is what they have/put in the marijuana is not going to be very helpful. Now they’ll say it’s for medicinal reasons, but I would say it’s also pretty dangerous for what they are going to put in it up the road.” -Pastor Rev. Dr. Larry Camp/Bethlehem Baptist Church in Brooklyn
“Pastor what do you make of African American lawmakers saying, because the train has left the station if you will…..it’s coming. But Black lawmakers have said we are not going to approve this… unless you can guarantee in writing…in advance, that the community is going to benefit. What do you think of that?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)
“Well I think that certainly if its a profit I understand that! But there’s a drawback for that. There was a church recently in Brooklyn…I’m not going to mention the church name….they recently had cannabis instructors to come there to let the church know who this would benefit… from an entrepreneur point of view. Now there’s doing it from a entrepreneur point of view, and if it strengthens the economy, that’s one point of view. But at at the same time, again what is it that they are selling within the context of marijuana. That’s the thing! -Pastor Rev. Dr. Larry Camp/Bethlehem Baptist Church in Brooklyn
“Finally, so you don’t believe it should be legal?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)
“No. I don’t think it should be legal. I don’t think it should be legal to be very honest with you, just like I didn’t think the numbers should have been made the lotto. I think the numbers were fine just the way they were. I know that’s a terrible comparison, but I don’t think it should be legal based on the fact we don’t know what they are going to put in it as the time moves on.” -Pastor Rev. Dr. Larry Camp/Bethlehem Baptist Church in Brooklyn
Religious leaders voice their opposition to legalized recreational marijuana
Four major African American Pastors spoke to our Dominic Carter — fios1news.com
Dominic Carter is a Political Anchor and Reporter for Verizon FiOS TV News/RNN TV. Dominic Carter also is a keynote speaker at events around the country, and delivers his testimony at Churches. His book on his remarkable life can be ordered at his website, nomommasboy.com. You can follow him on twitter.
You can click on the following links below to actually hear the full interviews.