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Rochester, New York Mayor-Elect Plans Guaranteed Basic Income From Cannabis Taxes

One of New York’s largest cities could put cannabis tax revenue to work by helping to implement reparations for impoverished communities impacted by the War on Drugs.

Report first by Business Insider, Rochester, New York’s Mayor-Elect Malik Evans plans to fuel his city’s progressive Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) program with revenue from adult-use cannabis sales, once the state gives the green light to retail sales.

Two weeks ago, Rochester City Council approved a plan for GBI—largely spearheaded by Mayor-Elect Evans following the departure of former Mayor Lovely Warren. This pilot program, which will offer $500 per month for the first two years to any 175 households that are eligible, will be available to those who qualify. Family members must have a household income of at least 200 percent below the federal poverty limit to be eligible. The monthly payment will be paid for a year. Recent events have shown that city leaders explained the differences between GBI (Gain Basic Income) and Universal Basic Insitute (UBI).

Additional 175 families will receive payments in the second year.  

Rochester is joining Ithaca in New York for a program similar to basic income. There are programs in Newark, New Jersey, and Los Angeles, California.

Two problems are connected by the idea of diverting cannabis tax revenue in order to finance guaranteed basic income.

“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 told Business Insider. An often-cited American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report identifies the double standard that stains American’s justice system—Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession, despite nearly equal rates of usage. Rochester is in dire need of improvement. Only 34% of Black Rochester residents are poor, while only 8% of White Rochesterers fall into poverty.

Rochester’s GBI program will receive funding from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP), which several cities around the U.S. have used to launch GBI programs. This year, some programs were launched using either ARP funds or grants from Jack Dorsey (ex-Twitter CEO) to aid low income residents. 

Before he assumes the role of Mayor, Evans served as the Rochester City Council’s councilmember-at-large with an extensive background in education and community projects.

“This is an industry with the potential to make millions of dollars,” Evans said. “Everyone wants to start a marijuana business in Rochester.”

To prepare for the eventual rollout of cannabis tax revenue, Evans launched the Rochester Cannabis Preparation Commission last week, so that the city can stay one step ahead, building on the plan of Evans’ predecessor former Mayor Warren.

After several failed attempts and years of failure, New York finally legalized adult use cannabis on March 31st. Former Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation.

In a statement, Cuomo called it “a historic day in New York—one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits.”

Unfortunately, regulation for the sale of cannabis has not yet been finalized, so dispensaries won’t start collecting money for Rochester until those details have been ironed out at the state level first.

Mayor-Elect Evans plans to create an inclusive economy in Rochester. “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.

New York’s cities and towns have until December 31st to decide whether they want cannabis consumption or retail. Dispensaries have been blocked in over 400 New York cities. Rochester is the only Monroe County municipality to grant permission.