Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Marijuana Prohibition Hit Black and Latino People Hardest so They Should Profit From Legalization First

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New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attacked what she said is the racial “injustice” that allows private jail firms which profited from mass incarceration under the War on Drugs to theoretically be among the first to profit under the legalization of marijuana.

The Democrat sits on the Financial Services Committee, which held a subcommittee hearing on Wednesday on the subject of banking services for America’s burgeoning cannabis industry, which is growing rapidly as legalization of marijuana spreads to more states.

Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist, asked if the marijuana industry is “compounding the racial wealth gap right now” by allowing wealthy white-dominated companies, including those which profited from mass incarceration, to gain an early advantage over others.

She was questioning Corey Barnette, who runs a cannabis business in Washington D.C. and is black, during her five minute slot at the House committee hearing.

“Is this industry representative of the communities that have historically bared the greatest brunt of injustice based on the prohibition of marijuana?” Ocasio-Cortez asked Barnette, listing statistics about the overrepresentation of white people in the industry.

He replied: “Absolutely not.”

Ocasio-Cortez did not highlight any specific examples of firms that profited from prisons entering the marijuana industry, though Barnette said it is possible and that these companies are at an advantage over others because of their easy access to capital for investing.

“Certainly it's the case that private equity firms who make money in one sector of our economy can definitely come in, into this industry,” Barnette said.

“And because they have tremendous access to wealth, and banks aren't necessarily going to say to a $12 billion hedge fund that no, we won't bank you, they will...have access that the average mom-pop black-owned businesses, Latino-owned businesses, what have you, just won't.”

Ocasio-Cortez said: “What this looks like it's kind of coming to, big picture, is that the folks who profited off of for-profit incarceration get to profit off the legalization of marijuana first, while the communities most impacted are last in the door.”

She asked if opportunities should be creating, including affirmative licensing laws “that prioritize frontline communities and communities that are most impacted,” to ensure those black and Latino people who suffered under punitive marijuana laws are now first movers in the industry.

This, Ocasio-Cortez suggested, could help them to “reap the benefits or recoup some segment of costs that they had bared in the 90s and the War on Drugs.”

Barnette replied: “Absolutely, there should definitely be social equity opportunities that allow those hit hardest by the War on Drugs to be first in line to benefit.”

According to the NAACP, a civil rights group, African Americans and Hispanics account for around 32% of the U.S. population yet are 56% of all people incarcerated. Moreover, African Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses than whites.

The ACLU, a civil liberties group, says black people are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana crimes, despite both groups using cannabis at around the same rate.

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