With the legalization of marijuana sweeping the nation and all roads leading to New York, Assemblymember Tremaine Wright hosted a “Cannabis 101” forum at Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza to discuss how the community could benefit from a possible legalization.

“When I began researching cannabis and how to approach legalization, I realized there were THC and CBD and so many other components and benefits to the plant I wasn’t aware of,” said Wright. “I also didn’t know the community’s thoughts on marijuana, but I figured there were others who were just as ignorant as I was, which is the reason for this discussion tonight.”

Jorge Vazquez of Latino Justice. Photo credit: Taylor Engle for BK Reader

Close to 40 attendees joined Wright and a panel of experts including Brooklyn’s Assistant District Attorney Melinda Alexis-Hayes, social justice advocate Chris Alexander and Justice Jorge Luis Vasquez. Jr., associate counsel of Latino Justice.

Chris Alexander, architect of the Start SMART NY campaign to end marijuana prohibition, emphasized how the criminalization of marijuana particularly affects communities of color.

“Over the last several years, arrests for marijuana have skyrocketed, with almost 90 percent of those arrests being black or Latino individuals,” said Alexander. “We need to make a change not because we use marijuana, but because marijuana is being used as a tool for discrimination.”

The discussion went on to cover dispensary licensing and how that future might play out in New York. In a report released in May, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer estimated a potential $1.1 billion marijuana market for NYC.

“We look at policies in California and Colorado and see how they are manipulating people of color and not giving them an opportunity. We need to change that,” said Vazquez. “The community has to band together to discuss what legal cannabis might look like in New York and how we want to regulate it. We hope to move forward and create a fair and equal policy.”

Community members also had an opportunity to share their opinion. Photo credit: Taylor Engle for BK Reader.

The panelists also discussed how the NYPD has handled marijuana arrests and how NYC’s district attorneys are moving away from prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses, a move that is needed to protect vulnerable communities like immigrants, said Brooklyn Assistant DA Alexis-Hayes.

“During the stop-and-frisk era, marijuana arrest numbers were astounding, and it mainly affected people of color,” said Alexis-Hayes. “Today there are 200,000 people in Brooklyn with marijuana convictions. And a great number of people are immigration consequences because of old marijuana convictions. We can’t wait until marijuana becomes legal to start implementing change – we need to start listening to the needs of our community now.”

Many of the audience members included professionals of the cannabis industry such as growers and dispensary owners who shared their experiences and utilized the forum to network.

The evening concluded with a screening of Ava Duvernay’s social justice documentary 13th, which offered another opportunity for Wright and the panelists to mingle with the attendants and continue discussions.

“This is a multi-layered conversation. We need to hear from the public because together we will shape the laws moving forward,” Wright said.

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Taylor Engle

Taylor Engle is a freelance writer from Southern California currently based in Brooklyn, New York. When it comes to writing, she loves the interview process: getting to know a person and then being challenged...

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