Rochester, NY has already approved a universal income program, but instead of relying on federal money, Mayor-elect Malik Evans wants to use cannabis tax revenues. Evans, who will take office in January, will ask the state legislature for a bill to create a cannabis tax revenue fund. The goal is to pay for Rochester’s universal basic income program and other initiatives and investments in the future. Marijuana prohibition issues may prevent Evans from getting the support he needs from lawmakers. But he’s downplaying “the reefer madness stereotypes” when he campaigns for universal income, which could help him gain supporters in the future.
“Community folks told me, ‘this is a big source of revenue, and Black and brown people are prosecuted worse than others because of marijuana,'” said Evans. “This is an industry with the potential to make millions of dollars.”
In December, the City Council approved a two-year guaranteed basic income pilot program that provides $500 a month to 175 families that live at or below 200% of the federal poverty line. The program would use funds from the American Rescue Plan. Evan has previously said he would approach philanthropists to see whether they could help the city expand the program.
Evans launched the Cannabis Preparation Commission to set the rules and regulations for industry licensing in Rochester once the state publishes its cannabis policies. Evans wants to be prepared to avoid mistakes and missed opportunities others have made and to ensure a high level of equity and social justice.
“We want to make sure that this is available to folks in the community as it relates to an entrepreneurial perspective,” said Evans in a statement to Spectrum News.
Ithaca, NY, Newark, NJ, and Los Angeles, CA have approved comparable plans. And a similar program is under consideration in Buffalo, New York’s second-largest city.
Amid cannabis legalization efforts, many are still wondering why marijuana is illegal in the first place. Not just because it’s used to relieve pain and contains therapeutic properties, but because it can also help fund universal essential income initiatives.
“States that have legalized marijuana are reaping considerable tax revenues, and we want to be at the front end of this,” said Evans. “We don’t know how long it will take for us to get where we need to be and if that money will be available when we are ready for it.”
“The cannabis industry will protect the rights of all residents and provide tax revenues for universal basic income,” said Rochester City Council Member Wade Kach. “Rochester voters and city council members are supportive of all Rochester residents receiving a living wage.”