For young Black men like Justin Sullivan, growing up in Harlem in the 2000s came with regular harassment from the police, making it risky to use marijuana. When he started making white friends who also smoked weed, he learned that they were not under the same scrutiny. “That’s when I started seeing how I was vilified for cannabis,” said Sullivan, now 34. Included with New York’s legalization of weed in 2021 was a promise to give back to communities that were most harmed by the war on drugs. Now, state cannabis regulators have created an interactive map from 1.2 million marijuana arrests conducted across the state over the last four decades as a guide to which neighborhoods qualify. Sullivan’s distressing experience could give him an advantage as he seeks one of at least 1,000 licenses that cannabis regulators in New York State plan to hand out early next year in a broad expansion of the legal market. Harlem, once a hotbed of drug arrests, is pinpointed in the mapping tool as a leading candidate for redress, reports the New York Times. New York set a goal for half of all licenses to be awarded to applicants from the hardest-hit neighborhoods, along with women, racial and ethnic minority applicants, distressed farmers and service-disabled veterans.
Regulators will use the map to help determine if applicants qualify as belonging to a disproportionately affected community. It serves as a reminder of how drug enforcement arrests in New York have been concentrated in low-income, Black and Latino communities. “This wasn’t darts on a wall,” said Tabatha Robinson of the Office of Cannabis Management, the state agency that released the mapping tool and regulates the recreational weed market. Across the country, from California to Massachusetts, similar efforts to make the industry more inclusive have struggled. In New York, an interim dispensary licensing program has been halted since August by a lawsuit from veterans who say they were illegally excluded. Researchers who put together the mapping tool analyzed the home addresses of all people arrested in New York State from 1980 through 2021. Enforcement in some neighborhoods was as much as 10 times higher than it would have been if arrests had been evenly distributed across the state, according to Damian Fagon, the state’s chief equity officer for cannabis. New York City accounted for most of the arrests — about 1 million. The places with the most disproportionate arrest rates were all in the city: a jagged stretch of Brownsville, a boxy tract anchored by a major public hospital in East Flatbush and a triangular expanse of East Harlem.