After pot conviction, New York couple plan legal clinic | Economic news
By CLAUDIA TORRENS, Associated Press
HICKSVILLE, NY (AP) — Eladio Guzmán spent two years in prison for selling drugs, missing the birth of his first child. Cannabis is part of its tumultuous past, but a year after New York legalized the possession and use of marijuana, it could be its future. He is eager to open a recreational dispensary.
“I did weather, we suffered,” said the 44-year-old union steam fitter, seated next to his wife at the dining table in his Long Island home. “It’s an opportunity for me to take the negative that I’ve done and actually help myself do something positive.”
His wife Melissa Guzmán also experienced the war on drugs: several relatives arrested. An uncle who spent a decade in prison. His eventual deportation to the Dominican Republic. Now, as New York develops regulations on how a person or business can apply for a dispensary license, the Guzmáns are studying the industry while awaiting an application to open a cannabis store in nearby Queens.
They often talk about the look, size and design of their future store, which they decided to call “Fumaoo”.
They don’t expect to get one of the first 100 cannabis retail licenses the state plans to reserve for people with marijuana-related convictions. This is because the Guzmáns do not meet some of the conditions, such as having at least a 10% stake in a company that has made a net profit for two years.
However, they are not too worried, since they qualify as seekers of “social equity”. Melissa Moore, director of civil systems reform at the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, said the state seems genuinely focused on promoting the social equity elements of the law passed last year.
“I think this is an important first step: to be very clear that people who have been criminalized for cannabis in the past can and should be able to participate in the market in New York,” Moore said, “d more so than in other States they have been actively prohibited even from being employees in some cases, and have certainly been barred from owning dispensaries.
The Guzmáns have joined the new Latino Cannabis Association and travel to cities like Boston to visit dispensaries for business research. They also attend industry conferences and online courses.
The justice system has for decades locked up a disproportionate number of Hispanics and blacks for drug-related offenses. New York officials say they want to address that problem by trying to secure a place in the market for those being prosecuted.
Jeffrey Garcia, president of the Latino Cannabis Association, thinks this is good policy. He tries to find Latinos who want to invest in the industry.
“We’re very intentional in making sure we find social equity candidates, Latinos, who understand our community vision and help our community and build generational wealth,” Garcia said.
Eladio Guzmán grew up in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn where his Dominican father had a convenience store. He said he became drawn to “street life”.
“I thought, ‘Wow these guys are making so much money, wearing gold teeth.’ … It was hip. And my dad kills himself waking up every morning at 6 a.m. to go and open this business,” Guzmán said.
He drove a taxi but also sold marijuana, cocaine, crack or ecstasy pills. “Whatever it was, I was able to get my hands on it,” he said.
In 2007 he was arrested for possession with intent to distribute. He was about to marry Melissa, so she set up her family’s property deed to bail him out. After fighting his case for a year, he was convicted and entered the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center in 2008.
Now the couple have three children and live in a house in Hicksville, Long Island. Melissa, 38, is an insurance adjuster and Guzmán a foreman at Steamfitters Local 638. Designs with “Fumaoo” in colorful graffiti-like letters hang in their living room and kitchen. Their days are filled with work, taking their kids to after-school soccer practices, and learning more about the cannabis industry.
They say owning a dispensary would improve their lives and provide a better future for their children. They also say they hope to give back to their community with their profits.
“Maybe we could help redo nearby parks, or fix a neighbor’s sidewalk, improve the look of a street, or provide shelter that the community might need,” Melissa Guzmán said. The state said 40% of cannabis tax revenue will be directed to minority communities that have had high numbers of marijuana arrests.
Moore, the drug reform advocate, said the state could invest in job training or after-school programs.
“We’re talking about a really large sum of money – year after year – that can be used by communities in the way that will best address the kinds of damages that need to be repaired,” she says.
New York aims to provide 50% of licenses to marijuana entrepreneurs who are women or minorities, struggling farmers, disabled veterans, and people from communities that have experienced heavy marijuana scrutiny.
Recreational marijuana is legal in 18 states, Washington, DC and Guam. The administration of Democratic New York Governor Kathy Hochul is committed to creating the “most diverse and inclusive” marijuana industry in the country.
Eladio Guzmán hopes the governor is right.
“I think cannabis is bitcoin’s next opportunity, especially for us minorities,” he said.
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