- Rochester, New York, is the fourth largest city in the state, according to the US Census.
- Its mayor-elect wants to use a tax on cannabis sales to fund a basic income program.
- He says the program will help people of color, who are disproportionately criminalized for marijuana.
One mayor-elect sees an opportunity to help people of color in his city, using a tax on a substance that has placed a criminal record on many of them.
Malik Evans — who will take office as mayor of Rochester, New York, in January — told Insider that when the sale of cannabis is legalized in his state, taxes on those sales should be used to fund a guaranteed basic income program that gives eligible participants monthly cash with no strings attached. Though the city has already approved an income program, it’s funded using federal dollars, and Evans believes a cannabis tax will be a more sustainable source of revenue to help disadvantaged folks in the community.
“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 said.
A study from 24/7 Wall Street in 2019 found that 34% of Black Rochester residents are in poverty compared to 8% of white ones. A 2020 ACLU research report found that overall, Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though they use marijuana at comparable rates.
“Indeed, in every state and in over 95 percent of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 1 percent of the residents are Black, Black people are arrested at higher rates than white people for marijuana possession,” the report says.
Evans believes Rochester has an opportunity to change that for future Black residents and says business owners have expressed widespread interest in jumpstarting the cannabis business in his city.
“This is an industry with the potential to make millions of dollars,” Evans said. “Everyone wants to start a marijuana business in Rochester.”
A cannabis tax would help people of color — without relying on federal aid
In the meantime, the Rochester City Council approved a pilot program for a guaranteed basic income program, providing $500 per month to 175 families that live at or below the federal poverty level. That program will be funded by money from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which several cities around the US have used to launch their own guaranteed basic income funds. Many of the programs that launched this year are either using funds from the ARP, grants from former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, or money from the state government to help low income residents.
Evans wants Rochester’s program to ultimately be less reliant on that money, although he is looking to expand the current guaranteed income program to 1,000 families using private funds.
“We want to start getting revenue from marijuana because you can’t just have the government,” he said.
Evans launched the Rochester Cannabis Preparation Commission last week, so that the city can get started the moment it gets the go ahead. This builds on the proposal of Evans’ predecessor, Lovely Warren, who wanted to use a tax on legal marijuana sales to fund a reparations-orienteduniversal basic income program.
Buffalo, the second largest city in New York, proposed a similar program in March. Rochester is the fourth largest, according to the US Census.
New York municipalities have until December 31 to opt out of hosting dispensaries or consumption spaces. More than 400 towns and villages across the state have blocked dispensaries from opening up as the deadline approaches, Rochester being only one of four municipalities in Monroe County to opt in.
Evans also wants those who profit off of the industry to be more diverse. An Insider report found this year that top executives at the 14 largest cannabis companies are overwhelmingly white men — about 70% of them.
“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.