James Walker: CT pot legislation could have real benefits for Black community

This is a critical time for Black people in Connecticut to keep their focus on what is happening at the state Capitol — and there is a good reason why.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a column, “Dear Gov. Lamont,” telling him that I had grown weary of politicians born in my era who knew and understood the problems of racial injustice — but lacked the guts to do the right thing.

That column was in response to ongoing arrests of low-income Black men selling marijuana — while the state paved the way for men with financial means to establish a foundation in the burgeoning medical marijuana field.

To me and many other people, the war on drugs has been nothing but a front for systemic racism, just like medical marijuana is nothing more than a front for legal commercialization.

If readers don’t believe that, contact your local medical marijuana doctor and I assure you, the prescription is yours for the asking — medical confirmation of conditions be damned: just pay the fee.

Lamont unveiled his budget on Wednesday. It included marijuana legislation that potentially could bring financial relief to low-income communities and chart a new path for thousands of young Black men.

Both are profoundly important to the Black community.

The legislation would not only fast-track legalization, but address criminal marijuana laws that disproportionately affect communities of color and ensure that men and women impacted by those laws have a foothold in the new marijuana industry.

If things go as planned, recreational marijuana will be on the shelves by May 2022 and an Equity Commission will ensure that stakeholders in urban communities also benefit.

I was talking to Adam Wood, a co-director of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, on my podcast last week when he noted it was a critical week for Connecticut.

Wood said legalizing marijuana could bring as many as 19,000 well-paying jobs in the fields of agriculture, manufacturing and retail and also create an economic boon at a time when the state is looking for new revenue streams.

He also said Lamont and his team are focused on how legalization could be advantageous to populations that have been negatively impacted the most.

“I also know it’s important for this administration, the governor and the legislature to focus on equity in this new economy created for this industry in Connecticut,” Wood said. “… There is potential for enormous job creation and a lot of revenue and we want to make sure and the governor wants to make sure that those communities impacted stand to benefit.”

This all sounds really good but my readers know I am a skeptic and I’ll believe it when I see it.

Even before it gets out of the gate, echoes from the past already are coming into play and some lawmakers are raising questions about the alleged equity — the most critical component of the proposed legislation.

“What I’m seeing in this budget does not look like equity,” state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said at a hearing, according to a report in the CT Mirror.

Winfield, who for years has championed legalization to address social injustices in the law, noted that Connecticut cannot expect to combat systemic injustice without investing more in core services — and that requires raising more revenue.

And I agree.

That is why Black people must keep their focus on Lamont and Connecticut lawmakers to determine whether this is new legislation with determination or the same old song and dance with new lyrics and a different beat to dance to.

With this new legislation, I hope once and for all — at least here in Connecticut — we can put behind us the hypocrisy surrounding the sale of marijuana that has led to the ruination of thousands of young Black men, the destruction of low-income communities and, for generations, the tearing apart of family units.

As it was with my last column, I acknowledge there are many young white men and other minorities who have been trapped in this ridiculous war, too, and are paying a heavy price.

But nothing compares to what this failed (or was it?) war on drugs has cost Black men and done to the Black community.

Two years ago, I asked the governor that since he so strenuously courted the Black vote, was he tough enough to push through legislation that was important to the Black community — or was he still on the campaign trail spouting plain old-fashioned pandering?

Right now, Lamont is making the right moves — but then again, 2022 is an election year.

And I am assuming Lamont will run again.

Pot? With legalization comes much more.

James Walker is the host of the podcast, Real talk, Real people. Listen at jameswalkermedia.com. He can be reached at 203-605-1859 or at [email protected] @thelieonroars on Twitter

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