Hawkins Testifies on Marijuana Legalization

Hawkins Testifies on Marijuana Legalization

Testimony of Howie Hawkins
Green Party Candidate for Governor
In Support of Legalization of Marijuana (Cannabis)
October 9, 2018

My name is Howie Hawkins. I am a resident of Syracuse and the Green Party nominee for Governor.

The Green Party calls for the immediate legalization of the growth, sale, and possession of cannabis under New York State law, and for the state Attorney General to defend New Yorkers against federal prosecutions of producers and users of cannabis products.

The prohibition of cannabis and the resulting “drug war” have unfairly incarcerated countless individuals and scarred communities, disproportionately Black and Latino communities. It has wastefully diverted public resources from pressing problems.

The present law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana has failed to reduce the trade or consumption of marijuana and has continued to foster a violent drug market. It is time to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in New York State.

We support the legalization of marijuana as outlined Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, with certain amendments. The act (S3040, A 3506) will also raise revenue for the state, portions of which will go back through government agencies and programs to communities that have been negatively impacted by cannabis prohibition.

Even though New York decriminalized small amounts of marijuana 40 years ago, local police, especially in New York City, have enforced the law with a massive bias against people of color. New York State is the marijuana arrest capital of the world with nearly 800,000 marijuana possession arrests and summons over the last 20 years, the most of any state in the nation.

New York State has the second highest per capita rate of marijuana arrests among the 50 states.

We must also improve New York’s present limited medical marijuana program, which seems primarily designed to enrich a few well-connected business people while it has failed to provide needed medicines to all who can benefit from them in a timely manner.

Marijuana prohibition has devastated communities across New York State. It has saddled hundreds of thousands of people with criminal records that has restricted their housing, employment, and education opportunities, with devastating consequences for their families and often their neighborhoods as well from the mass incarceration of community residents.

Marijuana prohibition has been a central feature of the over-policing low-income communities of color, which has focused more on maximizing tickets and arrests than solving the root causes of street crime in poverty and opportunities severely limited by segregation and discrimination. This race- and class-biased law enforcement has substantially eroded trust between the police and low-income communities.

Cannabis legalization should include the following measures:

  • Establish a regulatory framework that includes and encourages minority, women, small, and cooperative businesses and excludes big pharma, liquor, tobacco, and agribusiness.
  • Incorporate into the proposed Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act provisions to specifically encourage license applications from minority- and women-owned businesses located in the communities that have been most adversely impacted by the war on drugs.
  • Give people previously incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes opportunities to obtain grants and licenses to operate cannabis businesses as part of repairing the needless damages to their lives and their communities.
  • Re-legalize of the production, processing, and sale of industrial hemp and the food, fiber, lubricant, and other products made with hemp for any farmer, manufacturer, and retailer.
  • Regulate cannabis to encourage organic production methods and protect consumers from pesticides and chemical additives.
  • Pardon all non-violent drug offenders and expunge the criminal records of people with prior non-violent marijuana convictions.
  • Establish a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission to hear from the victims of the war on drugs and mass incarceration, assess its impact, and recommend policies to repair the damages.
  • Allow licensed recreational cannabis dispensaries to sell cannabis for home consumption.
  • Permit licensed businesses where cannabis consumption is allowed on premises, as are found in cities throughout the world.
  • Tax cannabis products at the normal sales tax rates, excluding homegrown not for trade or sale. The state should not have a vested interest in cannabis consumption as a revenue source, nor should a higher “sin tax” discourage the industry.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington state became the first states to vote to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. Since then, seven more states and Washington DC have followed.

Creating a system to tax and regulate marijuana use is a sound economic investment. In the states with existing regulated markets, previously static economies have experienced a new small business boom coupled with technological advances that benefit a variety of industries. Additionally, legalization presents an opportunity for New York’s farming communities to produce and sell new crops including industrial hemp as well as marijuana. Similar to the rise of New York’s craft wine and beer industries, a regulated marijuana market could also provide opportunities for small businesses in small towns across the state to cultivate a business model that is not reliant on access to large amounts of capital.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the estimated value of the current legal marijuana nationwide is more than $6.6 billion, with recreational sales expected to exceed $10.9 billion by 2025. Illicit sales are estimated at nearly $3 billion for New York State today. An official study by the NYC comptroller in 2013 estimated potential tax revenue for a legal marijuana market in NYC alone would be more than $400 million and could be much higher.

New York State should immediately legalize cannabis and begin to repair the damages that prohibition has unnecessarily inflicted on so many New York residents and communities.

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