States, overflowing with marijuana money, are now fighting over what to do with it

As of 2020, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia have begun adding programs that specifically address the societal harms caused by drug arrests, with allocations for special grant programs. Oregon lawmakers passed similar legislation this month.

“It is very important to do these things largely because of the cost that [drug arrests] took these communities,” said Toi Hutchinson, president and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that advocates for the legalization and fairness of the cannabis trade.

Hutchinson, a former Democratic state senator and marijuana adviser to Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, said communities targeted by drug arrests have high rates of violence, low education and high unemployment.

“These communities are suffering from a number of different things that you can trace back to the divestment in those places,” Hutchinson said. “So when you earmark it specifically, you have a better chance of controlling that those dollars do what you actually intended them to do.”

California, which levies a series of taxes on marijuana sales, brought in more than $1.2 billion in tax revenue last year, much of which goes to funding child care for families in low income.

California’s cannabis industry is pushing to lower taxes, citing black market competition and barriers to entry for minority entrepreneurs. Governor Gavin Newsom expressed interest in marijuana tax reformwhile several state legislators introduced bills that would reduce some of the taxes.

A coalition of child advocacy groups in California says these bills, including a State Senator Mike McGuire’s proposala Democrat, would drastically cut funds for the state community reinvestment grants.

“If there are changes in cannabis tax rates, then we have to call it by its name. And that would be child care cuts,” said Mary Ignatius, the statewide organizer of Parent Voices California, an organization that advocates for accessible child care. .

Ignatius made the comments at a news conference in February, noting that families eligible for the programs’ aid earn less than the state’s median income.

“They work in all the low-wage industries that have proven to be our essential workforce – janitors, farm workers, retail workers, food service [workers] — and we only serve 11% of those eligible children,” Ignatius said.

In Virginia, political struggles over marijuana money and regulations have thwarted the state’s chance to start legal sales early.

The state legalized marijuana possession last year, timing the start of legal sales for 2024 and earmarking a portion of future tax revenue for disenfranchised communities and loans to minority businesses. Republicans in the state legislature sought to remove the two terms in February, along with provisions that would have prioritized business licenses for those previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes.

Virginia’s current law would put 40% of future tax revenue into pre-K programs, 25% into behavioral health, and 30% into equity reinvestment that would go to communities affected by drug arrests. A bill by Republican Senator Thomas Norment would have allocated equity to the state’s general fund. Another bill introduced in the House by Republican Del. Michael Webert reportedly transferred these funds to a public school relief fund.

Both bills did not survive this session, and neither lawmaker returned requests for comment to NBC News.

“It’s just going to take more work than we can do in one session to fix this,” said Garren Shipley, spokesman for Republican House Speaker Todd Gilbert. told the Washington Post in February.

“I have made it clear that it is important that if we legalize it, we must do so in a way that addresses the disproportionate impact of marijuana prohibition on people from communities of color,” the statement said. Virginia State Senator Jennifer McClellan, Democrat. WHO voted against the bill this would have diverted funds from disenfranchised communities.

The bill died in committee and lawmakers failed to pass a sales framework before the end of the legislative session that would have started legal sales sooner. Lawmakers also failed to renew legislation that would have allocated future tax revenue to minority-owned business owners.

Hutchinson of the Marijuana Policy Project said it was crucial for states to balance priorities the right way, noting the legal sale of marijuana has become a billion-dollar industry as 19 states still shut down. persons for possession.

“The fact that both of these statements could be true at the same time in the same country, we should all ask ourselves, ‘How is that possible?'” Hutchinson said.

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