New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) came to Harlem on Feb. 19 to announce her new EquityPAC. Surrounded by elected officials and business people on the stage at the Harlem Repertory Theatre, Peoples-Stokes addressed the most important issue of the day in cannnabis: equity and diversity.
"We don't want to be equal anymore," she said with fervor. "It takes too long. Now it's time to start to work on equity in America."
The EquityPAC focuses on three areas: cannabis, education and environmental justice. Cannabis was legalized in 2021 by the New York legislature. The state's Office of Cannabis Manangement is expected to release regulations by the end of March.
"Black and brown New Yorkers have endured centuries of harm from structural racism and inequality," Peoples-Stokes explained. "Cannabis equity is the first step towards economic fairness and its probably the first industry that we actually as a people have had an opportunity to grow generational wealth in this country. If we pass legislation and then don't keep doing the work to make sure this is implemented right, we can lose opportunity. There are a lot of resources around this market. It's the largest market in the world underground, so imagine what its potential is above ground. If we don't stay focused on it, believe me, it's going to be grabbed up. If we don't on a regular basis, every day, educate ourselves, our people and our electeds that this has to happen, no excuses, it will run right by us fast.
Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand on cannabis legalization: "This is something we have to do on the federal level, because if we don't we continue to fail communties of color."
"This time we've just got to take it," Peoples-Stokes continued. "This EquityPAC will allow is to do that. The EquityPAC is going to support candidates and legislation that will ensure that individuals and communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition will reap the most benefits from the legal cannabis industry. I can't stress enough what hard work that's going to be to make sure that happens. When people see how much money's involved, everybody wants it. But nobody raised their hand to go to jail. Nobody went to jail at the numbers of Black and brown people did. That's why we have to make sure this market ends up benefiting them more than anyone else. We've got to be first.
"We look forward to being able to provide start-up capital and other capacity-building resources to successfully operate in this emerging industry. This is an opportunity to mitigate the harm through community development and training and by putting money behind candidates and legislation that will make cannabis equity a priority. We'll reinvest in those who lost the most during cannabis prohibition to assure that they gain the most in this legal industry.
"The EquityPAC will address our gravest injustices so that we can level the playing field for all New Yorkers. Because, guess what? Freedom ain't free."
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand concurred. "Equity is a way to address injustice and access to wealth, opportunity, prosperity, education, healthcare and a cleaner environment and to repair the harms of the unfair and shortsighted unforcement of cannabis law," the Congress member commented. "This vision is so needed, so critical and so wise.
"I'm working to rethink our approach on the federal level. This is something we have to do on the federal level because if we don't we continue to fail communties of color... Any public servant that doesn't see the potential in what can be created here with this simple change isn't listening, isn't seeing and isn't understanding the future of America.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes on New York's pot prospects: "It's the largest market in the world underground, so imagine what its potential is above ground."
"Cannabis is projected to be a $70 billion market in six years," Sen Gillibrand noted. "Imagine if half of that was invested in Black and brown communities. Imagine the radical change you could create and the radical opportunity for this generation, the next and the next. This is about buiilding institutiuonal and longterm wealth generation after generation in Black and brown communities. It's the only thing I can think of that creates an opportunity for universal prosperity for communities. That's why we have to be so intentional and dedicated to make sure we accomplish exactly that."
Other speakers at the launch included NYS Assembly member Eddie Gibbs; NYS State Sen. James Sanders Jr.; Jamol Pugh and Jose Luciano (Paint, Puff and Peace); Nicole N'Diaye (Nahe Farms); and Corey Dishmen and Charles Penn (The Library of New Jersey).