Rochester Eyes Cannabis-Funded Reparations

With legalization of recreational cannabis pending in New York, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren wants to take one historic event and use it to create another – a reparations program funded by the tax revenue of cannabis sales. This would (potentially) include a Universal Basic Income and homeownership program for City of Rochester residents.

There is no true legalization without reparations for the communities most impacted by prohibition laws. The Mayor sees this as an opportunity to “close the wealth gap between Black, brown and white residents.” (It’s important to note that the Mayor is not actually proposing a UBI, as her intent is to make the money available to a limited number of people within specific communities. That is not a critique, but semantics matter.)

This proposal was released in a letter from the Mayor drafted to the Ibero American Action League, which calls for a representative to join city leaders to form an exploratory committee and develop an implementation proposal. This committee would form in April after the bill is signed, and will include staff from the Mayor’s office as well as City Council members and representations from various local organizations.

Details are light at the moment, but the Mayor is clearly looking ahead and trying to position Rochester ahead of the curve on the heels of several damning reports, naming the city one of the worst in the nation for Black and Brown families.

While some may say (validly) that has more to do with getting re-elected in the face of several controversies than bringing equity and justice to underserved communities, the idea is important and valid nonetheless.

Why does this matter?

  • Findings from the RASE committee named Rochester (25th congressional district) as one of the worst districts for Black and Brown people.
  • Rochester has the most economically segregating school district border in the country, according to a 2020 report.
  • 48% of Rochester’s children live in poverty.
  • Home ownership is one of greatest factors in the racial weath disparity.

This idea is hardly the first of its kind. Last week, two cities announced plans for reparation payments. The city of Evanston, Illinois approved a proposal to use cannabis revenue to distribute $10 million over 10 years to support black households, to begin to atone for the historically racist housing policies. Oakland, California announced a “guaranteed income” for Black and Indigenous city residents at $500 a month for 18 months. The payments are unconditional and aimed at reducing the income disparities that are a result of “systemic failure”.

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