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The New York congresswoman suggests “affirmative-action licensing” to mitigate the “racial wealth gap” in areas that paid the price of the war on drugs.

By Mary Papenfuss, HuffPost

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) earned praise from “drug justice” advocates after criticizing a growing marijuana legalization and business model that is paving the way for white male investors to reap major profits after minorities spent decades in prisons for selling pot.

She made her comments during a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing this week on banking services for the burgeoning cannabis industry as more states legalize the sale and use of marijuana.

She suggested the growing industry was “compounding the racial wealth gap”  by allowing wealthy white-dominated companies to gain a quick advantage in the industry. She complained that communities most affected by drug incarcerations are the “last in the door” when it comes to profiting now from legalized cannabis.

The nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance praised her position. “We must legalize marijuana in a way that recognizes and repairs the disastrous, disproportionate harms of the drug war … on people of color,” the organization tweeted after the hearing.

Ocasio-Cortez cited statistics from Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is legal for recreational use, that 73 percent of cannabis business executives are male and 81 percent are white.

She raised the possibility of “affirmative-action licensing” to boost the number of minorities in local cannabis businesses so that “frontline communities” could now “reap the benefits or recoup some segment of costs that they bore in the 1990s during the war on drugs.”

She noted that some big-pocket investors in private prisons — who have made money as inmates served time for drugs — could now be profiting from the very drugs that landed people in their prisons. She did not, however, provide any examples.

The situation is a “justice issue,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted before the hearing Wednesday. “Communities decimated by mass incarceration need to see investments with legalization,” she added.

The full hearing is in the video below. Ocasio-Cortez begins to speak at 4:12:10.


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.