Commentary: Social justice group says wrong policy, wrong time for Cannabis tax & regulate

The following is a letter sent on August 20, 2020 to the Vermont Senate Committee on Judiciary from Mark Hughes, Executive Director, Justice for All regarding S.54, an act that would establish a legalized cannabis market in Vermont. As noted yesterday in Vermont Daily, the push to pass S54 this year is now opposed by small Vermont farmers and social justice organizations, as well as Vermont police, doctors, youth wellness, and substance abuse workers. A Senate/House conference committee is scheduled to discuss reconciling House and Senate versions of S54 Monday August 24.

Committee,

Taxation and regulation of cannabis must be founded upon the principles of addressing the harm caused by the war on drugs and offering an equitable opportunity for Black and Brown folks to engage in the market.  This policy misses the first point and does very little for the second. The reason for this is that neither of these principles was considered in the foundation of the policy and very little of what those of us centered in the BIPOC community have offered has been adopted. 

Mark Hughes of Justice for All

From the onset, this process has been plagued with a blatant disregard for addressing these principles.  The Marijuana Commission, appointed by the Governor, conducted a statewide tour and produced reports on substance abuse prevention, education and public safety to inform this legislative work. Nowhere in this body of work was there ever mentioned a word of the work required to repair the harm or provide real racial equity in the market.

This global pandemic is exacerbating all of the racial disparities acknowledged by the Attorney General and Human Rights Commissions, across all systems of State government. The murder of George Floyd has created a national racial reckoning.  Why is it that the Conference Committee is poised to pass a policy that fails to address the wrongs of the past and does little to provide racial equity for the future for Black and Brown people of Vermont?  By definition, systemic racism is the ill-gotten political and economic gains of white people! 

Rushing to pass this policy with laser focus on merely its economic benefit to those who hold political and economic power represents an unwillingness to reconcile with prior exploitations and makes you complicit with the continued perpetuation of economic oppression of Black and Brown folks in Vermont.  It’s just wrong. 

Mark Hughes, Justice for All

We ask that you not pass this bill at this time.  We ask that the Marijuana Commission be reconvened and asked to review the role systemic racism has historically played with this “drug” and provide a thorough report in the same manner that reports were provided on substance abuse prevention, education and public safety.  We ask that this policy also be informed by the body of work emerging around the racial equity in the cannabis industry, such as the recommendations we previously provided

Rushing to pass this policy with laser focus on merely its economic benefit to those who hold political and economic power represents an unwillingness to reconcile with prior exploitations and makes you complicit with the continued perpetuation of economic oppression of Black and Brown folks in Vermont.  It’s just wrong.  We join the voices of the many folks represented by Vermont Growers Association, Trace, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Rural Vermont and the ACLU of Vermont, imploring you not to continue the mistakes that we as a State have made in the past, putting profit before people; particularly at a time such as this.

Finally, please follow the lead of Burlington (recently adopting a Reparations Task Force Resolution) and do the work to pass (H.478), which has been in the House since the beginning of the Biennium.  I am including a petition asking you to do the racial equity work on S.54, signed by over 400 people.

#BlackLivesMatter

Sincerely,

Mark Hughes
Executive Director, Justice for All