Plan must come with a strengthened safety net for communities targeted by the War on Drugs
BROOKLYN, NY – Housing Works today announced its support for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to legalize and equitably regulate marijuana for adult use. Housing Works has provided health services to some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers for 30 years and seen firsthand the effects of targeted marijuana enforcement on low-income communities of color. With a fair and equitable plan, New York can begin to reverse the damage done in these communities.
“Legalizing marijuana is absolutely the right thing to do, and New York has an opportunity to lead the country in doing so with social justice as the first priority. Low-income communities of color have been targeted for decades in the War on Drugs, and we need a plan that centers those communities to begin addressing this decades-long injustice,” said Charles King, CEO of Housing Works. “Marijuana justice must necessarily include significant ownership and employment opportunities in this new industry for people who have been negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. Taxes and pricing must be such that low-income people are not forced to continue to engage in the off-the-books market, and the bill must create opportunities to research additional uses of marijuana as a substitute for other drugs that are currently illegal.”
Housing Works particularly endorses the proposed measures to offer licensing opportunities in communities most impacted by marijuana enforcement and set aside marijuana tax revenue to support these communities. This plan would bring the State much needed revenue, and it must be crafted to create economic opportunity for the communities that have been the focus of New York’s history of marijuana enforcement. Equity and community reinvestment must be the foundation of decisions around allocating funds brought in by this new industry.
King added: “While we are optimistic progressive marijuana legislation can pass this year, we need Governor Cuomo to take other significant action to address the racial disparities that exist in this state. He should start by taking two steps to reverse measures initiated last year: the first is to restore funds that have been withheld from nonprofit health and social service providers as part of the State’s COVID response, and the second is to reverse a plan to redirect crucial 340B savings away from safety net providers and into State coffers, which would have a devastating impact on community health centers, Ryan White providers, and others. The Governor cannot credibly say he wants to address racial disparities while stripping away safety net funding that allows providers like Housing Works to serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers.”
The 20% withhold on social service and health contract reimbursements has created shortages in syringes and naloxone for people who inject drugs, further exacerbating disparities at a time when overdose deaths are increasing. And 340B funds have been an essential resource for communities most negatively impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic in New York State. While this proposal represents an important step forward for New York and communities of color, with equity as the driving force, it does not alone compensate for harm the State is doing to New York’s safety net.