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Naioma Guerrero’s brother was frequently stopped by the police and once had a drug conviction

Naioma Guerrero‘s brother was frequently stopped by the police and once had a drug conviction when marijuana was illegal in New York. Now he is setting up a legal cannabis business, a promising new market full of pitfalls. New York State is offering its first 150 licenses to legally sell cannabis to people – and their relatives – who have been convicted of drug-related crimes, including sales.

The policy, introduced by the state’s Democratic leaders, seeks to compensate African-American and Hispanic communities whose members were disproportionately arrested and convicted during the decades when weed was illegal. “It’s such an exciting moment for my family,” said Guerrero, 31, a doctoral student in art history whose parents are from the Dominican Republic.

“Especially given where we come from and what we’ve been through, with the discriminatory policies the city has put in place, like stop and frisk,” she told . Last month, Guerrero was one of the first 28 successful applicants to receive a license to open an official store and sell locally grown cannabis.

The licenses come more than a year after New York state, home to 20 million people, legalized the use of cannabis. In New York, the smell of weed is now about as ubiquitous as yellow cabs and shiny skyscrapers. City officials expect the legal cannabis industry to generate $1.3 billion in revenue as early as next year and create 19,000 to 24,000 jobs over three years. This represents much needed tax revenue.

Racial differences

Jeremy Rivera is another New Yorker looking to profit. In 2016, he was convicted of a “non-violent drug offense including cannabis”. He was released from prison in 2018 and promised never to return. The 36-year-old wants to use his cannabis knowledge and business acumen to open a weed business east of the city on Long Island.

The heavily tattooed Rivera, who grew up surrounded by crime in the Queens borough, hopes to be among the next batch of licensees. “I want to be a beacon of light to show people, ‘Hey, listen, I did it. I was a 20-year gang member, I was a year-round drug dealer. I decided to leave the lifestyle,'” he told . In addition to a cannabis conviction, applicants must own a profitable business to receive one of the first 150 licenses that will precede the full market opening. In 2018, a state report estimated that 800,000 people had been arrested for possession of marijuana in the past 20 years.

In 2017, the majority of those arrested were black (48 percent), while Hispanics made up 38 percent of those arrested. “Prohibition has denied people opportunities, alienated communities, broken families,” said Tremaine Wright, chair of the New York Office of Cannabis Management’s (OCM) review board. Guerrero says that in the 2000s, the NYPD’s infamous stop-and-frisk policy, which disproportionately targeted people of color, meant “we couldn’t be out without being caught by the police. “It was just living in a constant, constant state of surveillance and harassment,” she recalled. While the cannabis program is ambitious, experts say its implementation will have its challenges. “We’re still at the very beginning of our journey for social justice. We need education, we need funding,” said Desmon Lewis, co-founder of The Bronx Community Foundation, which helps applicants.

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