Rochester, New York Mayor-Elect Plans Guaranteed Basic Income From Cannabis Taxes

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One of New York’s largest cities could put cannabis tax revenue to work by helping to implement reparations for impoverished communities impacted by the War on Drugs.

First reported by Business Insider, Rochester, New York’s Mayor-Elect Malik Evans plans to fuel his city’s progressive Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) program with revenue from adult-use cannabis sales, once the state gives the green light to retail sales.

Two weeks ago, Rochester City Council approved a plan for GBI—largely spearheaded by Mayor-Elect Evans following the departure of former Mayor Lovely Warren. The two-year pilot program will provide $500 per month to 175 families that qualify. To qualify, families must live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. They will receive the monthly payment for the span of one year. In recent events, city leadership explained the difference between GBI and Universal Basic Income (UBI).

An additional 175 other families would receive the payments for the second year of the program.  

Rochester joins Ithaca, New York to launch a similar basic income program. Programs also already exist in Newark, New Jersey and Los Angeles, California.

The idea to divert cannabis tax revenue to fund guaranteed basic income shows the connection between two problems.

“Community folks told me, ‘this is a big source of revenue, and Black and brown people are prosecuted worse than others because of marijuana,’” Evans told Business Insider. An often-cited American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report identifies the double standard that stains American’s justice system—Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession, despite nearly equal rates of usage. Rochester specifically needs improvement, as 34 percent of Black residents in the city fall into poverty compared to eight percent of white ones.

Rochester’s GBI program will receive funding from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP), which several cities around the U.S. have used to launch GBI programs. Some programs that launched this year are either using ARP funds, grants from former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey or state funds to help low income residents. 

Before he assumes the role of Mayor, Evans served as the Rochester City Council’s councilmember-at-large with an extensive background in education and community projects.

“This is an industry with the potential to make millions of dollars,” Evans said. “Everyone wants to start a marijuana business in Rochester.”

To prepare for the eventual rollout of cannabis tax revenue, Evans launched the Rochester Cannabis Preparation Commission last week, so that the city can stay one step ahead, building on the plan of Evans’ predecessor former Mayor Warren.

On March 31, New York legalized adult-use cannabis when former Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation, after several years of false starts and other failed efforts.

In a statement, Cuomo called it “a historic day in New York—one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits.”

Unfortunately, regulation for the sale of cannabis has not yet been finalized, so dispensaries won’t start collecting money for Rochester until those details have been ironed out at the state level first.

Mayor-Elect Evans also plans to ensure an inclusive industry in Rochester. “We’ll have to figure out how we go about setting up our program to make sure we can help entrepreneurs who may not have been involved in the [cannabis industry] in the past,” Evans said.

Cities and towns in New York have until December 31 to opt out of cannabis retail or consumption spaces. Over 400 towns across New York have blocked dispensaries already. Rochester is one of just four municipalities in Monroe County to give the green light. 


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