In Cannabis Legalization Latinos See Business – And Redemption

José Cruz, a resident of Mott Haven in the Bronx, prepares to take financial advantage of a possible legalization of cannabis in New York. The death of his brother “Che” marked a before and after for José Cruz, who currently devotes much of his time to his organization Young, Fresh and Conscious. (Photo by José Martínez via El Diario)

One night nine years ago José Cruz saw his brother Marcos for the last time in the streets of Mott Haven in the Bronx. NYPD officials told him that “Che,” as he was affectionately called by his friends, had been stabbed as he was trying to stop a fight in front of a restaurant on 149th Street and Grand Concourse. Hours later, the same officials told Cruz and the media that his brother was “no saint” and that he had been arrested at least 12 times for selling cocaine and marijuana.

The case was never solved. On a cold winter afternoon Cruz, 40 and single, watches with sorrow, and also passion, the tree he planted in March 2010 after his brother’s burial. He, along with his community, had decided on a revival after saying goodbye to “Che.” Adults and children joined together in a project to rescue Brook Park, on Brook Avenue between East 140 and 141 streets, just behind the buildings where his parents moved after leaving La Perla in Puerto Rico.

Brook Park, also known as Alexander Burger Park in honor of a Lithuanian immigrant who lived in the area, is now a place for community meetings, tomato and strawberry farming during the springtime, and activities for all ages. It is also the place where Cruz keeps his community work going through his organization Young, Fresh and Conscious, an initiative that seeks to help youths affected by drug addiction, as well as those in the community who have been victimized by the war on drugs.

It’s a big contrast to the place it used to be when Cruz was growing up: an epicenter of illegal drug trade. He would watch from his apartment window how the neighboring buildings were used entirely as hallucinogen factories. (…) “I decided to study everything related to addictions and worked for 15 years as an addiction counselor at a hospital,” he said.

He thought his life was going well until the day his brother died. It was like going back in time to those afternoons at his window. But this time was different: His brother was not only a victim of the war on drugs, but also, he says, of the criminalization of communities of color.

“At that moment I thought: I have all this pain, this rage… I’ve been doing good things for my family, for my community, and I lose my brother like that,” said Cruz, while holding teaching materials filled with images about the history of the Puerto Rican and African American communities in the Bronx, which he uses in his workshops at organizations and schools around the borough. (…)

Cruz lives in an apartment near the Brook Avenue subway station with his mother, with whom he speaks Spanish and dances salsa in honor of his father, a conga player. He is hopeful that marijuana will be legalized in New York this year. He thinks that this would mean that communities like his would “finally see a path to repair the damages that racism has left in the war on drugs,” considering that more than 800,000 people have been arrested and jailed for marijuana-related crimes in the past 20 years, mostly Latinos and African Americans.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recognized last December that the legalization of cannabis trade at the state level could inject large sums of money into communities that have historically been battered by the war on drugs. (…)

For Cruz, who has been closely following the process in states that legalized the recreational use of marijuana, such as California and Oregon, it presents a business opportunity for him and his community. All he pretty much needs to start a cannabis business legally is to obtain a Marijuana License. As the marijuana business is quite competitive, you want to do all you can to create a successful business, regardless of the industry. There are loads of other things that you could also look to, to help you with your business. Depending on what you want to focus on, you could always check out a website like to help give you a better idea of what else you might need in order to make your business successful.

“(…) We want to be part of the farming business,” said the community leader, who is studying how to be part of an industry that could generate as much as $670 million annually in taxes for New York. Legalization would also lead to higher quality cannabis being produced. As we all know, not all cannabis is grown responsibly.

The first weeks of 2019 seem to mark an opening for what promises to be a long and controversial debate in Albany. However, for many New Yorkers legalization is inevitable. That’s why more and more cannabis-related companies are establishing themselves in the Big Apple, fervently awaiting the day in which the law will pass.

One of those cannabis companies is The People’s Dispensary, created in 2016 in California. Their goal, they say, was to fill a market void and serve the needs of people of color, women, members of the LGBT community, veterans, former convicts, and people with chronic diseases.

Christine De La Rosa, co-founder of The People’s Dispensary, one of several cannabis companies that are waiting for a possible legalization of weed in New York. (Photo via El Diario)

“Ninety-six percent of cannabis business owners in California are white men,” said Christine De La Rosa, co-founder of The People’s Dispensary, who two months ago left sunny California for the cold of Brooklyn. “I arrived in New York as a defender of all marginalized employees and to make sure that New York is part of the conversation and can create a path for the formal economy without criminalization.”

For De La Rosa, it is a “unique” opportunity, in part because it is possible to learn from the difficulties presented in other states, where communities of color have not been able to benefit from legalization because either they were not credited investors, didn’t have access to capital to invest, or lacked business expertise to build their own companies.

“This is a really unique moment in which we can legislate and also make sure that our communities of color are part of this multi-billion industry,” said the CEO, adding that other than the benefits of getting involved in a $500 billion industry, cannabis also “saves lives.”

(…) According to De La Rosa, those shop-like dispensaries where customers can buy all kinds of cannabis-related products from medicinal supplements to painkillers, would create jobs locally for employees who would be 80 percent Hispanic or African American, and generate real estate and private security deals.


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