When most people think about advocates for the legalization of weed, they likely imagine tie-dye-wearing stoners just looking to get high without the hassle of the man.
That’s the stigma that Michael Zaytsev, aka Mike Z, the founder and CEO of High NY, fights most.
“The biggest misconception about cannabis is that it’s not that important or that it’s just for ‘getting high,’” Zaytsev told Metro. “This plant serves as life-saving medicine for thousands, if not millions, of people.”
High NY was founded in 2014 and currently has more than 2,300 members. “It was formed to facilitate progressive conversations and collaborations between people in New York who care about cannabis issues,” Zaytsev said.
Since its inception, High NY has produced dozens of education and networking events, from medical professionals discussing cannabis and public health, venture capitalists talking about investment opportunities and, on Thursday, the cost of the war on drugs for people of color.
Hosted in conjunction with the Cannabis Cultural Association, the panel discussion with Jawanza James Williams of VOCAL NY and Janos Marton of Just Leadership USA/CLOSErikers will shed light on incarceration rates, sentencing and what happens after prison “for those not facing a life sentence for a plant.”
The discussion “is meant to inspire and empower the attendees to become advocates for criminal justice reform,” Zaytsev said. “Sadly, New York City is the cannabis arrest capital of the world.”
He may not be wrong, as the NYPD had a 9 percent increase in marijuana arrests last year, according to a February Politico report. The bulk of those arrested were people of color.
“It's no coincidence that cannabis prohibition and the so-called ‘war on drugs’ have devastated communities of color,” Zaytsev said.
Zaytsev does have concerns about the future of legalization in Trump’s America.
“The Trump administration – in particular Attorney General Jeff Sessions – seems to think cannabis is very dangerous and will not make America great again,” he said. “I fear that they will enact policies based on their emotions and not based on outcomes that will benefit the American people.
“The fact is, this country was built on hemp. Our Founding Fathers grew it, and there was a time when it was illegal to not grow hemp. For over 100 years, Americans were even allowed to pay their taxes in hemp!” he added.
Thursday's event takes place at 6:30 p.m. at Future Fires Entertainment, 48 W. 25th St. Tickets are available on eventbrite.com.