On Saturday more than a hundred people, mostly African-American, packed a room at Medaille College for a community conversation about the future of legal marijuana.
State Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples Stokes, who supports its legalization, says the goal is to educate the community about the proposed changes, laws, and opportunities that exist in the cannabis industry.
"Money is being made as a result of the business in other places. Not only do you have to protect the criminally incarcerated, protect the community that was negatively impacted, but you gotta create opportunities for people to also be in business. It can't be that 90 percent of the people incarcerated from cannabis are only five percent of the business. We have to prepare them for that," said Crystal Peoples-Stokes.
Ebele Ifedigbo, co-founder of The Hood Incubator, an Oakland based non-profit that addresses the lack of inclusivity in the cannabis industry, says they want to level the playing field for people of color who are interested in legally selling marijuana.
"We know how our communities have been negatively impacted and now we're trying to figure out how to change the trajectory and get the opportunities we're looking for. So, that's why people want to make sure that the policies are conducive, they want to make sure the business licenses are accessible for them, and they want to make sure they actually understand the legislation and the compliance, so they can be successful with this opportunity," said Ifedigbo.
Community activist India Walton who sat on the panel agrees all residents should have the opportunity to benefit from the cannabis boom, but she'd also like to see changes in the laws that disproportionately put people of color behind bars for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
"The interesting thing is that in 1977, New York State actually decriminalized smaller amounts of marijuana — and by small amounts I mean 25 grams or less. But we're still seeing that 80 percent of marijuana arrests in Buffalo and Erie County are people of color. So, we're just asking for that practice to stop," said Walton.
Monday, Peoples-Stokes is hosting a public hearing on the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act which relates to adult use of marijuana.