Bodega owners across the city are urging officials to let them sell marijuana in their stores once it becomes legal in New York State.
The United Bodegas of America held a Sunday morning press conference outside of Anthony's Mini Market the Bronx neighborhood of Melrose. Shop owners argue that bodegas, as well as the communities they serve, should see financial benefits from any legislation—especially as rents continue to rise in gentrifying parts of the city.
Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his plan for legalizing cannabis. In his proposal, women and minority-owned businesses would be given priority to obtain licenses to grow and sell, and different licenses would be given to people operating in different parts of the business, from selling to producing, in order to curb monopolization. Criminal records for prior cannabis offenses would also be sealed.
Mateo said that union representatives have drafted a proposal to send to Cuomo, and have insisted that bodega owners be a part of the legalization and sales talks, the NY Post reports. "Bodega owners are honest, hard-working people who employ over 100,000 people in the NYC area alone, we deserve to participate in this new opportunity," UBA President Radames Rodriguez wrote in a statement.
The governor is pushing for the state legislature to vote on legalizing marijuana by April 1st, when the budget is due. If all goes according to plan, marijuana sales would begin in the spring of 2020, and it would be legalized not long after the legislation is passed.
The United Bodegas of America say the move could be a boon for communities who have long suffered from the racial and socioeconomic disparities that have historically driven marijuana-related arrests. "All this money should not go to white-owned businesses," Fernando Mateo, spokesman of the United Bodegas of America, told reporters at Sunday's press conference. "It should not go to corporate America. It should be shared with the underdogs." The group noted that owners are often subject to fines when cannabis-related arrests take place outside their bodegas (people sometimes stash their weed inside stores).
Advocacy groups and some officials have called for potential new cannabis revenues to go directly to communities that have been hit the hardest by cannabis-related enforcement. In December 2018, City Comptroller Scott Stringer released an analysis detailing how cannabis arrests adversely affect people living in lower-income neighborhoods (seven out of ten of the neighborhoods with the lowest median household incomes saw one third of the city's total cannabis-related arrests).
As Mateo pointed out, bodega owners already abide by numerous regulations governing the sale of cigarettes and lottery tickets. "We will follow the rules, the regulations and we will makes sure that none of that is broken," Mateo said. "But allow us to be part of a new industry that is coming into the city.”