Brooklyn community activist hails ganja vote with some reservations

Brooklyn community activist Owusu Slater.
MC Kresge

Brooklyn community activist Owusu Slater on Wednesday welcomed, with some reservations, New York State Legislature’s vote legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana for individuals 21 years of age and older, saying “it’s been a long time coming.”

“For many, it’s an answered prayer; and, for the staunch advocates, a victorious battle won,” Slater, a Vincentian-born drummer and story teller told Caribbean Life. “I can almost hear the Niabingi drums and chants of jubilation. Rastafari rights to the holy sacrament marijuana, the herb is now a forgone conclusion.

“Those who are currently detained, or those who were previously incarcerated, can now sigh a breath of relief,” he added. “Their record would be now be expunged under the new legislation.

“Employers and schools would no longer treat the convicted as criminals not worthy of a job, or undeserving of higher education, or equal opportunities compared to the masses,” Slater continued. “However, this legislative move has left more questions than answers in my mind.

“Are there going to be any guard rails (limitations or stipulations) to protect us from substance abusers who would be driving high as kite causing fatal car accidents, just like drunk drivers are held accountable? Are there going to be designated areas for smoking like [it done for] cigarettes, or omnipresent in our faces?” he asked.

Slater said the state has “moved on the decriminalization of the herb knowing incredible dollars are the bottom line, just like Colorado, California and other states who made billions in revenue.

“Who stands to benefit the most — the state, big business, the people of Brooklyn?” he asked. “I doubt it.

“What about getting license for cultivation or the process or prices of obtaining such licensure?” the activist further asked. “I understand it’s difficulty for the ordinary man to obtain, so how exactly do these complex integral components consort to make profitable?

“Looking through my political lens, it’s a calculated win for the Democrats, which will undoubtedly enhance their political capital among significant sections of the electorate,” Slater said. “Who can tip the scales of power? Is this what it’s really all about?”

On Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James welcomed the favorable vote in the State Legislature, stating that the legalization of marijuana is “a racial and criminal justice imperative.’”

She said the vote is “a critical step towards a fairer and more just system.

“For too long, people of color have been disproportionately impacted by an outdated and shortsighted marijuana prohibition,” said James, adding that “it’s past time we right this wrong.

“We must also engineer an economy that will provide a much-needed boost to communities devastated by the war on drugs and COVID-19, and I am hopeful this will help to achieve that for New Yorkers,” she continued.

As New York City Public Advocate, James was among the first elected officials in the State to call for the legalization of recreational marijuana, citing the need for a fairer justice system and a significant boost to the economy.

James has also advocated for expunging the records of those who have been arrested, detained or convicted of marijuana-related possession.

On Tuesday, State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes announced that the Assembly will pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), which will legalize the adult use of marijuana in New York for individuals 21 years of age and older and establishes the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) and the Cannabis Control Board to regulate the cannabis industry.

The legislation would use revenue from adult-use marijuana to invest in education and communities that have been disproportionately targeted by state and federal drug laws.

Heastie said New York will join 14 states, two territories and the District of Columbia in legalizing the adult use of marijuana.

He said this will create jobs across all aspects of the industry from agriculture to retail.

“Passage of this bill will mean not just legalizing marijuana but investing in education and our communities and bring to an end decades of disproportionately targeting people of color under state and federal drug laws,” Speaker Heastie said. “The Assembly Majority knew it was important to do this the right way – in a way that would include those targeted and frequently excluded from the process. Now, this legal industry will create jobs across our state, including for those who have had their lives upended by years of unjust drug laws.”

“I am proud to have fought so long for this legislation and to finally see it pass,” Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes said. “We are providing marijuana justice by ensuring investment into the lives and communities of those who suffered for generations as a result of mass incarceration. The results will be transformative for people across New York State. It will create economic and research opportunities, jobs across a wide variety of sectors, and a safe and reliable product.”

The legislation will allow for the adult use of cannabis for those 21 years of age and older, and provide for the possession of three ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of concentrated cannabis. It removes cannabis from the list of controlled substances.

The New York State Senate also on Tuesday passed legislation that will end the prohibition on adult-use marijuana in the state.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger, will establish a new office for the regulation of cannabis and decriminalizes the use of adult-use marijuana.

“There were many important aspects of this legislation that needed to be addressed correctly – especially the racial disparities that have plagued our State’s response to marijuana use and distribution, as well as ensuring public safety — and I am proud that, through strong collaboration, we have reached the finish line,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“Thank you to the Senate sponsor, Sen. Liz Krueger, for her tireless efforts to get this legislation advanced and done right,” she added. “The Senate Democratic Majority is stepping up to give New Yorkers the fair and equitable adult-use marijuana market they deserve.”

Liz Krueger said, “I am very proud to say that we have finally reached a three-way agreement on legalizing adult-use cannabis in a way that foregrounds racial justice, while balancing safety with economic growth, encouraging new small businesses and significantly diminishing the illegal market.

“My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our State, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities,” she added.

More from Around NYC