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New York Mayor Proposes Using Marijuana Taxes To Fund Guaranteed Income As Reparations For Black Community

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The mayor of Rochester, New York is proposing to use tax revenue from the expected statewide legalization of marijuana to promote racial justice, and part of that could involve funding a universal basic income (UBI) program to help narrow the white-black wealth gap.

While a newly negotiated bill to legalize cannabis in New York has yet to be released, Mayor Lovely Warren (D) said that when the state does start taxing and regulating marijuana, it will represent “an opportunity we never had before to bring real resources to bear to uplift our families and improve, not just their financial wellbeing, but their very future.”

Warren said at a press conference on Friday that “the neighborhoods, the communities, that were most affected by the criminalization of marijuana deserve the opportunity to receive and also to be invested in as we start to distribute those dollars.”

Right now, the city is in the exploratory phase, with the mayor announcing plans to put together a committee in April that would be tasked with “reviewing the UBI and reparation pilots in other cities to determine how we could develop this life-altering program for Rochester, and possibly a City-sponsored home ownership mortgage program.”

“We should not let this moment pass us by,” Warren said in a letter seeking partnerships with community organizations, which was first reported by Rochester First. “With the legalization of marijuana on the horizon, we have the ability to enact legislation locally to make the concept of reparations through a UBI and home ownership a reality for Rochester and its families.”

New York lawmakers are in the process of finalizing the last details of a bill to legalize cannabis, with legislative leaders and the governor emphasizing this week that they are close to a deal. Details of the negotiated deal started to circulate on Wednesday, and the legislation as described does call for a significant portion of marijuana tax dollars to go to a community reinvestment fund.

It’s unclear if there will be language setting out parameters that local governments would have to follow to utilize those funds, or if the mayor would seek to use separately raised local tax revenue on cannabis sales for the reparations efforts, but Rochester isn’t the first city to consider using marijuana tax revenue to grant some form of reparations to marginalized communities.

The Evanston, Illinois City Council on Monday approved a proposal to use cannabis revenue to distribute $10 million over 10 years to support black households. It’s described as a way to start making up for historically racist housing policies that widened the racial wealth gap.

Warren cited the Evanston action in her letter, as well as a new program in Oakland, California to provide a privately funded guaranteed $500 per month income to low-income families of color.

 

A large part of the motivation behind this initiative is a report put out by the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE) earlier this month. It took an in-depth look at the systemic racial inequities that have impacted communities of color and made a series of recommendations on how to begin to repair those harms.

The report demonstrated that the congressional district where Rochester sits is “one of the worst for black and brown people,” Warren said at her press conference. “The legalization of marijuana gives us a unique opportunity to right some wrongs, and that’s really the definition of reparations—the making of amends for wrongs that have been done by utilizing resources to otherwise help those that have been affected by the government in many cases.”

While the mayor said the plan is to look into providing a universal basic income, it seems the intent is to make it more narrowly available to minority communities as a form of reparations. Still, the precise details are yet to be seen, as the mayor’s committee must still convene and analyze existing systems before an initiative is finalized.

She was asked about eligibility requirements for the benefit and said the exploratory committee will “really look at that issue.”

The panel will be headed by City Chief of Staff Brittaney Wells and Chief Equity Officer Cephas Archie. Warren has also invited members of the City Council and several local groups like the Urban League, YMCA and Rochester Area Community Foundation to help inform the city’s approach.

Read the mayor’s full letter on using marijuana revenue for reparations below:

Rochester Mayor Marijuana Reparations Letter by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

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