As New York moves closer to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, bodega owners are calling for Mayor Bill de Blasio to keep his promise to give small businesses and people of color the lead on making legitimate businesses from it. The United Bodegas of America held a rally on Sunday to call for allowing bodegas to sell marijuana, unlike the specialized dispensary approach taken by many other states.
“All this money should not go to white-owned businesses,” said UBA representative Fernando Mateo. “It should not go to corporate America. It should be shared with the underdogs.”
The advocacy group argues that allowing them to sell pot once it’s legalized will solve two problems with one swoop–the fear of large corporations profiting off of the backs of over-policed populations, and giving a new source of revenue to struggling small businesses. Historically, bodegas have been owned by and run for communities of color, and often are one of the first to suffer from gentrification and expanding chain stores, as NPR reports.
“We have seen thousands being arrested for selling marijuana in front of our businesses,” said Ramades Rodriguez, UBA president. “Bodega owners need increased revenue to survive: we have paid our dues.”
According to the New York Post, the union is working on a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo requesting as much and hopes to be included in conversations and negotiations about future licensing rules for marijuana sales.
“We will follow the rules, the regulations, and we will make 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.”
Allowing bodegas to sell recreational marijuana would align with the plan for legalization released by the de Blasio administration in December of last year, which focused on restorative justice for people of color and priority for small businesses over large companies.
“We know that lower-income black and Latinx New Yorkers have been hit hardest by marijuana enforcement, and they should be the first to benefit from legalization,” said New York Comptroller Scott Stringer.