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In the wake of Governor Daniel McKee’s announcement of nominees to serve on the Rhode Island Cannabis Control Commission, the Rhode Island Cannabis Justice Coalition (RICJC) hosted a press conference at the State House on Thursday. The message was simple: government officials should remember that repairing the harms of the war on drugs was a central tenet of the state’s efforts to legalize cannabis and that incoming commissioners have a responsibility to work with members of impacted communities to ensure that our state’s cannabis industry follows through on that promise.

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Governor McKee last week nominated his own Deputy Chief of Staff, Kimberly Ahern, as well as former state representative Robert Jacquard and Layi Oduyingbo, currently the managing attorney, owner and founder of a Cranston based law firm. Those nominations will go to the Rhode Island Senate for approval.

The Rhode Island Cannabis Justice Coalition is a group of labor, social justice, and community organizations committed to building a just and equitable cannabis industry in Rhode Island. Organizational members of the Coalition played leading roles in ensuring that legalizing cannabis would mean justice for communities disproportionately harmed by the mass incarceration that resulted from the war on drugs. Its members helped ensure Rhode Islanders with cannabis charges would have their records expunged; played a leading role in ensuring that some of our state’s cannabis dispensaries would be led and owned by community members harmed by the criminalization of cannabis, including through the historic reservation of six licenses for worker-owned cooperatives; and fought for workers’ rights to be at the center of the new legal cannabis industry.

“The RICJC is a coalition of organizations in Rhode Island who are fighting for a fair rollout of the Rhode Island Cannabis Act,” said Tripp Hopkins, a founding worker-owner of the cooperative dispensary start-up PVD Flowers. “The RICJC serves as a hub for worker co-op and social equity cannabis businesses, like PVD Flowers, and provides policy advocacy, community outreach, and education. Its work is instrumental in organizing cannabis justice advocates in Rhode Island and educating the public about the Rhode Island Cannabis Act.”

With nominations released for the Cannabis Commission, the Coalition continues to advocate for the interests of those directly-impacted communities throughout the implementation and enforcement of the legalization law. Moving forward, it asks that State Senators engage the nominees during the advice and consent committee meeting on how they intend to prioritize social equity, center directly-impacted communities, and ensure the success of worker-owned cooperatives.

“We all come together to make sure the legalization law in Rhode Island was centered around people who have been directly impacted by the War on Drugs and the War on Cannabis,” said Representative Cherie Cruz (Democrat, District 58, Pawtucket). “We call on the governor to make sure that implementation operates according to the same principles. We have an opportunity to show the rest of the country how to do it. Let’s seize this opportunity and do it right!”

RI Cannabis Justice Coalition renews call for economic and racial justice in nascent cannabis industry – Uprise RI
Representative Cherie Cruz

Speakers at the press conference will argue that the Coalition and impacted communities must be consulted and centered in all decisions related to the implementation of the Rhode Island Cannabis Act. Policy decisions and nominations to leadership positions should be based around seeking a just and equitable cannabis industry based around principles of:

  • Social and Racial Equity
  • Labor Solidarity
  • Minority-owned Business
  • Cooperative Ownership
  • Consult the Directly Impacted

“As a female that has been incarcerated and has a traumatic brain injury, I know what it’s like to be pushed around and feel helpless at times,” said Raquel Baker, another PVD Flowers founder and member of the Formerly Incarcerated Union. “To me, cannabis justice means healing some of the harm that’s been done and giving people a second chance.”

RI Cannabis Justice Coalition renews call for economic and racial justice in nascent cannabis industry – Uprise RI
Raquel Baker

“Coming from an impact of community myself, I know the effects of being excluded. Inclusion is so important– and not just the promise,” said David-Allen “Bear” Sumner of Break the Cycle Cooperative Hub.

“Building worker power—through protecting the rights of workers to organize, secure a union contract, and pursue worker ownership—is central to the cannabis justice movement in Rhode Island,” said Sam Marvin, a Union Representative with UFCW Local 328. “UFCW stands in solidarity with directly-impacted communities in establishing an equitable and just cannabis economy that lifts barriers and creates new economic opportunities.”

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