(NEW YORK — ) Johnny Walters has lost count of the times he has been arrested on the streets of Harlem for marijuana-related offences. Most of the time, the judge ordered his release, accusing the police of having carried out an illegal search.
But the 56-year-old New Yorker pleaded guilty to at least one charge of illegal possession of marijuana. This puts him in an excellent position to obtain one of the first licenses for the sale of cannabis for recreational purposes in New York, according to a new state policy.
“I’ll definitely ask for one,” he said, leaning his back against a mural covering a building on the corner of 116.and Frederick Douglass Street and Boulevard, Harlem.
“Most of the people who were convicted of marijuana possession were people of color,” he added, explaining the astonishing turnaround.
It wasn’t right from the start. People would get arrested just for smoking a joint and end up with criminal records that prevented them from finding honest employment. It’s time they were given the chance to earn some real money.
Johnny Walters made the remarks on Thursday. On the same day, Democratic New York State Governor Kathy Hochul confirmed her plan to ensure that the first beneficiaries of the commercialization of recreational cannabis in New York come from the communities that have been most affected. by the war on drugs.
So between 100 and 200 cannabis sales licenses will go first to people who have been convicted of marijuana-related offenses or to a parent, spouse or child of someone who has. Applicants will be selected based on their business plan and retail experience.
“To my knowledge, this is the first such initiative in the country,” said Melissa Brown of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for less repressive drug laws.
“It’s really important given the scale of the marijuana crusade in New York City, where we’ve made 800,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of cannabis over the past 25 years. We need to think big when it comes to solutions. »
The governor’s plan includes a $200 million package to help early licensees find, rent and renovate their premises. In New York City, new entrepreneurs will face particularly high costs.
The first cannabis sales licenses in New York are expected to be issued later this year. Meanwhile, Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan is provoking mixed reactions. New York City Democratic Mayor Eric Adams has come out in favor of prioritizing people who have been convicted of marijuana-related offenses.
“Yes, they should be in the front line to receive part of the permits,” he said Thursday at a press conference.
We have unfairly targeted black and Latino communities in this arbitrary marijuana crackdown that I fought against as a police officer and we cannot go back to that time.
Eric Adams, Mayor of New York
In contrast, the leader of the Republicans in the New York State Senate, Rob Ortt, criticized the governor and the Democrats who control all the levers of power in the New York capital.
“This is just another reminder that Albany is out of touch with the needs of law-abiding, tax-paying New Yorkers who do what’s right,” he said in a written statement, alluding to to “hundreds of millions of dollars for those who broke the law”.
“I paid my debt to society”
It goes without saying that Johnny Walters does not see the matter the same way. According to him, if Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan is not implemented to the letter, the marketing of cannabis in New York will quickly be dominated by large corporations, as is the case in many other American states.
He sees nothing wrong with the idea of receiving a state subsidy, even though he has served two periods in prison for offenses related to the sale of a drug other than marijuana.
“I paid my debt to society. I served my sentence, he said. Now I have a chance to take a legal route. Give me a chance to make some money. I have never killed. I have never been convicted of a violent crime. »
These days, Johnny Walters has more than one job. He is notably the manager of a mobile marijuana dispensary for recreational purposes parked from 8 a.m. to midnight at the corner of 116and Douglass Street and Boulevard.
Uncle Bud, name of the dispensary, is not an outlet, it should be noted. The place functions more like a museum. “We accept donations,” explained Johnny Walters, recalling that possession of marijuana was legalized in New York in September 2021 for adults 21 and older.
And the New York police seem to be satisfied with this compromise.