State Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) hosted a heated panel debate on Saturday on the pros and cons of legalizing weed in New York State that left attendees with a lot to take in.

    City Council Member and District Attorney Candidate Rory Lancman. Photo by Naeisha Rose.

    Listening in on the debate on Feb. 2 was Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) who is running for the Queens District Attorney’s office to reform the criminal justice system.

    “Hopefully the [state] Legislature is going to legalize marijuana,” said Lancman. “Going forward and retroactively, there is a lot that has to be decided about how the marijuana industry will be regulated and capitalized and I think it is very important that people have input because otherwise, you are going to wind up with an industry that is dominated by big out of state corporations.”

    One of the strongest proponents on the panel who was for legalizing marijuana was Anthony Posado, a supervising attorney for The Legal Aid Society’s Community Justice Unit.

    “The criminalization of marijuana is a pretext to surveil black and brown communities,” said Posado. “We need to legalize marijuana to address the racial disparities that so far have been a parted parcel of the racing policing that takes place with marijuana prohibition.”

    The lone woman on the panel, Andrea Colon, a community engagement organizer of the Rockaway Youth Task Force, shared Posado’s sentiments on legalizing weed.

    “I’m really looking at this as a criminal justice issue. Legalizing marijuana is restitution for people of color, particularly black and Latino people here in Queens who are disproportionately impacted by criminalization,” said Colon. “It’s known that white people and black and Latino people smoke at it at the same rate, but we are the ones who are incarcerated the most for it.”

    Colon also wants to make sure that black and Latinos get to benefit from the legalization of marijuana on an entrepreneurial level too.

    “So I’m looking at how can we benefit from [legalizing] this, who is going to be growing, who’s going to open these businesses?” Colon said. “It shouldn’t be something taken up by white corporations. It should be people of color at the top making the decisions.”

    AU Hogan, the tenant association president of the Baisley Park Houses in South Jamaica, wants marijuana to be decriminalized, not legalized, because in his opinion based on proposals already set forth by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the substance will likely become heavily bureaucratized.

    “We can absolutely not legalize marijuana,” said Hogan. “You have to know the difference between decriminalization and legalization…What they proposed to decriminalize on July 18, these laws were softer than what they will propose if they will legalize marijuana. We have fought to stop over-policing in our communities with stop-and-frisk. What legalizing marijuana will do is reengage our young people with police officers.”

    Will Jones, a firefighter from Washington D.C. who has come across a lot of victims of drugs, believes that legalization won’t help communities of color in the least bit.

    “If you look at the data, arrests for youth in Colorado increased 58 percent for those of color since legalization and went down 5 percent for those who were white,” according to Jones.”

    After the debate, Sanders asked the audience to vote by cheering and the panel ended up with a tie.

    State Sen. James Sanders, Jr., who hosted the debate. Photo by Naeisha Rose.

    Sanders weighed in after the debate with the belief that there should be no talks about legalization until people who have been persecuted for marijuana were free and had their records expunged.

    “What is not being alluded here is the effect of Big Cannabis,” said Sanders. “My personal view is decriminalization. We need to empty the jails right now. Yesterday…then lets talk about how are we going to do this. The one percent want to hold on to these kids and say ‘y’all are getting something and we are getting something’…Let us separate the issue. Decriminalize it…and take that issue off that floor. They can’t bargain with junior.”

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