(upbeat music) (upbeat music continues) - Hey y'all.
I'm Kiara Butler, and welcome to Generation Rising, where we discuss hard-hitting topics that our diverse communities face every day.
And today's topic is the legalization of marijuana and its impact on Rhode Island's marginalized communities.
Marijuana was decriminalized last December, yet thousands of people in our state remain behind bars, waiting to be released for a crime that's no longer illegal.
And a new economy has emerged with a fresh taxable cash.
Where is that money going?
Tiara, that is what we're gonna talk about today with you.
And I'm really excited to be engaging in this conversation.
- Yeah, I'm excited too.
- So you have always been for the decriminalization of marijuana.
- And that led to what type of votes for you?
- Well, my community also wants to legalize marijuana.
I represent one of the most diverse communities in Rhode Island: Providence, Mount Hope, Southside, Downtown, Washington Park area, and now parts of the West End.
Many of my community members are directly impacted by the war on drugs.
Most have family members or know someone close to them, family, friends, old schoolmates, who have had some run-in with law, probably related to marijuana or some other drug use, sale, or possession.
So it is a topic near and dear to the communities I serve, to me as someone who has family members who are also directly impacted by the war on drugs, and it's a issue of equity.
As someone who's seen this country not treat people who look like me as equitable members of society, embedding equity into every single law, whether it's decriminalizing marijuana, increasing wages, providing more opportunities for folks who've been historically marginalized or left out of policies, is always top of mind for me.
- And so how has the war on drugs like, impacted marginalized communities?
If you could just explain that for us.
- Yeah, well, I can only talk, I can say like, broadly, it's impacted us a lot.
And then from my own personal experience, I have uncles and other loved ones who have been in and out of the criminal justice system because of the 1990s war on drugs.
Many generations who look like me have had to dramatically change.
My mom, my grandma have had to change their family structures because oftentimes it was the men in the household who were sent to prison for generations, 10, 15, 20 years, for drug charges that are either no longer illegal, or for possession of, quote, unquote, "paraphernalia" or being involved in what society has deemed a crime of survival, either because they had low wages and they had to have a side hustle in order to make ends meet, pay rent, make sure they pay medical bills.
They're oftentimes taking care of multiple generations, not just their own, taking care of mamas, taking care of babies, taking care of like, family members.
So the war on drugs has impacted the way that we even think about family.
When you have one person in the household who has been imprisoned for even one year, two year, three years, four years, five years, decades, that impacts the amount of money that a household can even have, the amount of jobs.
Even once someone's released, the amount of opportunities available to that person is significantly diminished.
Fortunately, in Rhode Island, a couple years ago, I believe in 2013, '14, we banned the box, which prevents employers from asking about someone's criminal justice, or criminal history and background.
So there are more opportunities for folks to get jobs, but there are still certain federal jobs that you can't get, which are good-paying jobs that you can't get if you've had a criminal record.
So there are just so many ways that families have had to adjust to having the war on drugs negatively impact who even is a breadwinner in their family, even when they come back into community, who is then making enough money to support the next generation.
What neighborhoods are they allowed to live in now because of their criminal record?
What jobs are afforded to them?
What health insurance in turn do they have access to because of their ability to get a quality job?
What does it look like for them to even own a house or build equity and build generational wealth?
So, so many ways that it's not just the war on drugs and putting people in prison, but it's the downhill effect.
That when that started in the '90s, we're now 30, 35 years out from that- - Seeing the effects.
- and we've seen the effects of generation after generation that have now grown up with families that have never had enough, generations that didn't grow up in two-family households.
We have the trauma of being imprisoned and seeing people who look like you.
One in three black men will see their peers imprisoned in their lifetime, whether it's not a family member or a close friend or someone in their peer group.
So there's a lot around that.
And that's why I think talking about this issue, it's not just about, yay, we legalized marijuana, and now we have this recreational aspect, but it's talking about, well, how do we repair that harm that's been done to those communities, if we can ever do that?
That's 35 years of harm, trauma, generational wealth, lack of opportunity that we can't get back.
But how do we build the tools in order to right some of those wrongs?
And Rhode Island took a step in that direction by decriminalizing or making marijuana legal, I guess you can say, in December 2022.
- Sign it right here.
- [Reporter] Cannabis legalized at the stroke of Governor Dan McKee's pen.
The 19th State to do so, joining four other New England states that have also legalized.
- There is some good in not being the first into the industry.
You see what other states have done.
- I think it's probably one of the best legalization bills.
I'm a little biased.
- [Reporter] Representative Scott Slater and Senator Josh Miller were the lead sponsors in their respective chambers.
Each had tried to get legalization passed for about a decade.
- So what does that mean for the people who are currently incarcerated?
Are they getting out?
- So that's a good question.
So baked into the law, we have automatic expungement for marijuana-only charges.
And then that is going to impact up to 27,000 Rhode Islanders who have some type of marijuana charge- - Wow.
- on their record that will be automatically expunged.
In the law, we did give until July 1st, 2024.
So we still got about a year and a half- - Long time.
- until all of those people.
So marijuana was legalized on December 1st, 2022.
They have until July 1st, 2024 in order to right the wrong of those arrest records.
So there's some folks who will still have that impacted, whether or not it's gonna show up on their credit score, impact their ability to get a house.
Luckily, we don't have ban the box reliance.
They can still get a job in Rhode Island, but they won't be able to have access to a job at the federal government or certain other like private industry jobs as well.
And then there's gonna be a host of more people that have marijuana charges in addition to something else, whether it's a non-violent offense like shoplifting, stealing, arrest records that have to deal with like, there's just so many different things that they can just like add marijuana.
So you're speeding.
You get a speeding ticket.
You're going 100 miles an hour, or you're fleeing from police officers.
They find a dime bag in your car.
That's reckless driving and also a marijuana charge.
Or you're caught because, your family is making it paycheck to paycheck, you shoplift from a grocery store so that you can buy enough food so that your babies don't go starving.
They find in your pockets, while you were arrested for shoplifting, they find half a joint in your pocket.
Now you have a shoplifting charge and a marijuana charge.
So there's so many different ways and so many different situations that we'll need to have the criminal justice system actually look at and say, "Well, we can expunge this, but this part of it won't stay."
But we know that they will always, and have always, tacked on additional things to give people who look like me more time in prison.
So there's like the ripple effect.
How long do you think the process is gonna take overall?
- Well, I think that was one of the biggest talking points when we were passing the law because obviously, we want it to be an automatic process.
But one thing about Rhode Island and the system that we have for keeping records is it has to be a manual process.
So someone's probably going to literally go through each of those applications of folks that are seeking expungement and then have to remove those.
So whether or not we use like law students, some type of office that gets money to do that, it'll take a lot of people power in order to expunge those 27,000 records by then.
So not sure how long it takes.
I hope that by July 1st, 2024, we have made a significant impact on the lives of those 27,000 or more people.
But that's something that we'll have to keep on the governor's team on the office that also is gonna be overlooking over that process.
And so in thinking about how much money is being made off of marijuana currently, I think the tax is like 20%.
- [Tiara] 20%.
- Where's that money going?
- So 13% of that money goes to the state and our general revenue.
Some of that will go towards the social equity piece, making sure that communities that have been directly impacted will be able to enter into the marijuana and cannabis industry.
And then 7% of that 20% will go to the municipality, where the consumption site, or where the dispensary is located.
So some of it'll go back to the communities that are hosting these sites, and the rest goes back to the state in our general revenue.
So it'll go towards things like schools, roads, et cetera.
And luckily, we also made a provision that if you decide not to have a cannabis facility in your community, you can't benefit from some of the tax revenue that we get.
But it's a steep tax.
It's higher than Massachusetts, it's higher than Connecticut.
And a lot of that money should be going back to the communities directly impacted.
Some of it is through the social equity, but I think through having a really great cannabis oversight committee that'll be appointed by the governor's team, which we're still in the works of finding those members, that'll be an important charge of that committee to make sure.
It's an 11-person committee that'll be appointed by both the governor, the House speaker, and the Senate president that will make important decisions about how that money's spent, who it's impacting.
And then even the General Assembly will be in charge of making sure that the people that are appointed to that board are people that actually care about these things, know about these things, and then, ideally, are also directly impacted so they know the stories and the lived experience of people on the ground.
- Are we able as like, just regular humans, are we able to say where that money goes or to like voice where we want that money to go?
- Yeah, I mean, advocacy is always super important.
I think the hardest part about advocacy, like, our voice matters, it's knowing who to give our voice to.
So people like the governor's team, the bill sponsors, Senator Miller and Representative Slater, are super responsive.
They're probably part of the decision making team of who's gonna be appointed to this committee.
And then on the website, ODO, I forget what the acronym is 'cause there's so many acronyms in the government, but you can just type in like marijuana or cannabis legislation oversight board, and you can contact those people, you can give your thoughts.
And once we have all of those board members elected, those are the people that you should be directly contacting.
They haven't been elected yet, unfortunately, or they haven't been appointed yet to that committee, but those are the people that we should be talking to.
And ideally, because they'll be appointed to address things like social equity and coming from directly impacted communities, they're folks that will look like us, know our stories, and then will be able to translate our advocacy into action.
- And so I personally would like to see money going back to people that are being released from prison because of marijuana.
Put you on the spot: Where do you think the money should be going?
Because you told us all the places it is going, but where do you think it should be going?
- Well, in an ideal world, and that's one of like, the most frustrating things, what we want and what we get never really pans out.
There are some states that have really great justice reinvestment stuff.
It still doesn't go far enough.
In an ideal world, this would be a reparations program.
In an ideal world, this 20% of the revenue, the majority of it would be going back to the communities that directly need it, whether it's buying homes, funding good-paying jobs in communities, funding great health insurance for folks that have been directly impacted by the war on drugs in their communities that are forced to live in areas of Providence that have an increase in lead pipes, have worse air quality metrics.
Going to our schools, making sure that the generation that have been negatively impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline now have great-quality schools, giving them a pathway for great-quality jobs, whether or not they decide to go to college or go into trades.
It should be going towards housing.
It should be going towards making sure that the communities that have been historically impacted by the war on drugs, the one in three men that have been sent to prison over the last 30 years for crimes related to possession, sale, distribution, et cetera, it should be going directly to their pockets.
One of the ways that I think this money is being used that is one positive, but also something that I'm challenged by is that they do have an allotment in the bill for social equity licenses.
So the expense to getting one of these marijuana licenses is high.
You're talking a quarter of a million dollars- - Wow.
- in order to get a license to sell marijuana in the state.
Yes, I know, it's a big number.
The social equity- - Wait, say that again.
- It's almost $250,000, if not more.
A quarter of a million dollars in order to get license.
There is a lot of money in marijuana.
And this is why it is also frustrating that we got some allotment of that going back to our communities, because this is a million-dollar industry.
The anticipated revenue on a yearly basis just to Rhode Island for the sale of marijuana is about $20 million a year.
That is a big industry.
A lot of that money is going to the wealthy and well-connected folks that can front that capital on the front end, folks that already have enough capital or collateral in order to open up their business, get their license.
And one of the ways that advocates and activists that were working on passing this marijuana legislation was making sure that we had an allotment for co-ops and for social equity.
So some of that 20% of the tax revenue is going to go to make sure that marijuana businesses can be opened by communities that are directly impacted, one that have lived in an area in a low-income census track, going to folks who have either been previously incarcerated because of marijuana charge, going to historically marginalized communities.
And then for the application fees, for like the four or six compassion centers that already existed, so those are like the medical marijuana facilities that already existed in Rhode Island, they could apply for their hybrid license.
So they went from a compassion center to a hybrid like, retail and compassion center.
$125,000 of their application fees goes into the social equity bucket, which will help these co-ops get started.
$125,000 for each of those applications, and I believe there were four or six, is going just to the social equity bucket.
But in order to have enough money in order to make this work and in order to like, have enough marijuana businesses for the market that exists, we're gonna need to invest so much more money.
We're gonna need startup capital for these businesses.
They're gonna need to purchase buildings.
They're gonna need to purchase places to grow.
They're gonna need to be connected to distributors.
So it's a lot of overhead costs.
And it's not like we're saying every single one of these marijuana businesses that's gonna open up is gonna go to the communities that are directly impacted.
We are gonna see, unfortunately, and I don't know all the statistics on this, but many of the people who used to sell on the street in order to supplement their income because they don't work in high-paying jobs, and they're working in jobs that are well below what it costs in order to like pay for rent and daily necessities, are gonna lose some of that stream of income, and they're not gonna have any access to this new business that's opening up.
So in an ideal world, I'd love to see many of the, much of that revenue going towards making sure that there is an industry for people to easily access, whether it's opening up a small marijuana business where you sell, or you have a small like bake shop, and you sell like edible goods.
Or you open up a mixed-use space where you can both like, smoke in a lounge and also get food or drinks, cocktails in a safe environment.
So I think a lot of this money should be ideating on how do we actually build this into our communities in a safe and responsible way, but also in an equitable way, recognizing that there are people already, right now, being left out of this industry that's generating millions of dollars?
And that's by design.
The only reason why I believe that we passed marijuana legislation when we did, 10 years behind the rest of the New England states, when Massachusetts already had a booming business.
Connecticut passed right before us, and they had their dispensaries right on the border of Connecticut, Rhode Island.
Massachusetts has their industry and their businesses right on the edge of Rhode Island.
So we lost a lot of revenue going towards that.
So we're playing catch-up in New England.
We're playing catch-up with the social equity piece.
We're gonna need to make that up, somehow.
We're gonna have to really ideate, how do we get small business owners from these directly impacted communities into this business in innovative ways?
Are we linking it with our commerce?
Are we linking it with our food industry?
Are we linking with our arts and culture?
Are we linking it with our tourism dollars?
What are the ways that we can bring more dollars to Rhode Island and the artistic capital of the country, but also making sure that the people who have been in prison for this are at the center of those decisions, are at the center of those businesses?
And that's one way that we can ensure that we're not only growing this million-dollar industry in Rhode Island, but we're also righting the wrongs that have been done, not only in our country, but also in our state.
And I don't know the correct language, so correct me if I'm wrong, but it was passed in December 2022.
And I know a couple of dispensaries who are already selling medical marijuana.
They started selling recreational marijuana, so they're ahead of the game.
- [Tiara] Yep.
- But when will we start actually seeing new dispensaries for recreational marijuana in Rhode Island?
- Yeah, so that was the compassion centers, was the original ones.
And I believe there are four or six of them.
And then we'll start seeing those applications come through.
We won't see any of those co-op licenses really come through until this board is created.
So this 11-member board that's gonna be under the governor's office needs to appoint these officers in order to make decisions- - Wow.
- about where this money comes.
It's a whole process.
It's frustrating because you're like, "Okay, marijuana's legal.
Now we can just start opening up businesses."
There's a whole other gatekeeper in process.
And like, sometimes those processes are good.
They're gonna be making sure that these license are going to the co-ops, that it's dispensed in an equitable way.
And they'll make decisions based on what those members say.
But it also puts in roadblocks.
It sets us up for being a little bit of a slower process.
And sometimes that's great because you wanna act with intention, you wanna be slow and deliberate, but it also means that justice might be impacted or might be delayed for the folks that need it.
So going back to your question, yes, there were some sites that already existed.
And then once those applications get through, and again, these are quarter of a million, if not more, applications that you need in order to have a license, in order to get.
So someone has to, one, raise that capital or find that capital or front that capital, and then get through the application process through this state agency.
I believe right now there were over 20 or 30 places when I looked online a little bit earlier today that already were approved for licenses through the state of Rhode Island.
So we'll start seeing more pop up.
But it was easiest for those compassion centers, the medical marijuana places- - To switch over.
- that already existed to just transition to the hybrid spaces, so.
- Yeah, 'cause I live in East Providence, and it was on the ballet.
Like, do you want a dispensary?
Blah, blah, blah, blah.
And I clicked yes.
I'm thinking it's just gonna drop out of the sky, and it's gonna appear because we all voted yes for it.
But I guess we'll see it maybe in a year.
- I believe there is a Pawtucket dispensary now.
- Yes, I just heard about it.
You know, there's, now, I believe there's one in Pawtucket, the Slater Center that's right in Downtown Providence, now has a recreational license.
They got theirs in December.
When I was looking online, there's like 20 places in Warwick that are approved.
There's only a few in Providence that are approved, but Warwick and West Warwick, they're gonna see a lot of marijuana business popping up.
And I'm like, "Okay, Warwick."
- [Kiara] Do you think that like, black marijuana growers have benefited at all from this new passing of the law?
- Not yet, and that's one of the delays.
I do have some friends who are in the business who are really interested in getting part of that social equity piece, which was, again, really critical in passing, which was a really critical and crucial point of the marijuana legislation that we passed, is that we are going to intentionally carve out licenses for these communities starting up their own co-ops.
They're cooperatively owned.
They're from people from directly impacted neighborhoods.
I think there's like five different standards that you have to meet in order to qualify for this.
And then 51%, the majority of your membership of this co-op, has to be from a directly impacted community.
Can't make more than 400% of the area median income or have been previously impacted by marijuana when it was illegal.
So they have not benefited yet, but the benefits are coming.
- They're coming.
- And I think we can continue to advocate for more money, more industry, and more ways that these are independently owned, cooperatively owned marijuana co-op businesses in our state.
And that's gonna be one of the charges of making sure that this cannabis committee council that's appointed by the governor is going to be representative of the body.
Not just folks who are looking to make money for themselves and their friends, but making money and ensuring the financial future of communities that have been directly impacted.
- All right.
And so if I'm a viewer, and I'm interested in getting into the medical marijuana industry or just the marijuana industry in general, and I don't have $250,000 for a license, what can I do?
Do you know?
Like, where should I go?
- Yeah, so one, there is the ODO Office.
And then soon, the social equity piece will be up.
Again, we're waiting on getting these positions filled so that they can then dispense those monies and those grants.
But the whole purpose of that is that for each application, for the people who pay without the social equity budget, 125,000, I believe, of their application fee goes into the social equity bucket, which will then give money to seeding these businesses for black and brown people.
And so the website you should go to, you should just go to ri.gov, and then type in ODO or cannabis council or cannabis committee, and then it'll give you a lot of information.
There's contact information.
It'll tell you like, who's on it, what are the different application fees, how to apply.
I believe there's also some grants, or there will be grants, available to these businesses.
And then at the city and municipal level, one of the things that people can also do is make sure that your city is thinking intentionally about zoning.
Once we get more licenses from people that look like us, then we're gonna start saying, "Okay, well, I wanna have infused dinners, but my city doesn't have zoning to where I can like, have like, a safe place for me to like either smoke or have a like mixed-use facility."
I wanna make sure that I'm advocating for that for the city of Providence or the city of Pawtucket or the city of Cranston, city of Woonsocket.
I wanna make sure that any businesses are both licensed for having wine, beer, and spirits, but also marijuana on their menu.
So those are some of the things that we have to start thinking about and advocating for.
Like, when I think about, "Well, what do I want?"
I'm like, I wanna be able to take the bus to Downtown Providence, chill with my friends, either have an infused meal or an infused cocktail, or have a smoking lounge where I'm just like chilling on a nice summer day, maybe by the water, in Downtown Providence.
Where I could just chill with my friends in a nice safe space.
And what I have to do to get that is make sure that the places that I like to go to are zoned for that.
Make sure that we have like really great bus infrastructure so I don't have to drive nowhere.
And then also making sure that we're incentivizing the businesses to then have those.
And again, this is a million-dollar industry.
It's linked to food, it's linked to tourism, it's linked to arts, it's linked to culture.
It could be a really big draw for the creative capital, Providence, Pawtucket, and our surrounding cities, but we have to make sure that we're being intentional about, what are we advocating for?
Who do we want to benefit from it?
And then how do I get these ideas just from my head into action?
And then how do I advocate for those things?
How am I advocating for the money to do that?
How am I advocating for the businesses that I already love to eat at to then start to incentivize them to have maybe an infused meal night or events like PVDFest or like some other summer concert festival?
What can we do to make sure that there are either safe spaces or a draw for people to come out of the state, into our state to see Providence through a Highlands or something like that?
I would really appreciate that, because I had to go all the way to Amsterdam to be able to experience what you're talking about.
And in Amsterdam, they call them coffee shops.
So I would really love to have some coffee shops here in Rhode Island so that I don't have to leave the country to have that experience.
- [Tiara] What?
- We're at time.
- Oh wow, okay.
(laughs) - Already.
But thank you so much for joining us.
This is actually your second time being on the show, Senator Mack.
- Yes, it is.
- And I really appreciate it.
For our viewers at home, you can catch all of our past episodes anytime at watch.ri.pbs.org.
And be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates.
Finally, I would like to thank you again, Senator Tiara Mack- - Yeah, thanks for having me.
- for having this conversation.
Just like last time, you gotta leave your mark.
Grab some chalk, head on over.
Let people know you were here.
I don't know, maybe you put weed up there today or something, marijuana.
- I don't know.
Head on over.
- I'll use green.
(laughs) - All right.
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