Danny Williams, of Memphis, smokes an oversized joint being passed around outside the state capitol during Cannabis Awareness Day in St. Paul, Minnesota on April 20, 2018.Aaron Lavinsky / Star Tribune via AP file
There is an urgent need for black Americans to inform themselves of the business opportunities surrounding cannabis, senior pastor Anthony Trufant of the Emmanuel Baptist Church told the attendees at the Business of Cannabis summit held in Brooklyn, New York, last week.
The summit attracted almost 1,000 attendees, who heard from industry leaders in the medical, business and social justice sectors working on cannabis.
Black communities in New York have been convening on how the business and politics of the cannabis industry will impact them, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushes to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21 by the end of 2019. Last year, Cannaclusive, an organization advocating for diversity and inclusion in the marijuana industry, held events in New York City to educate others about cannabis use and investment opportunities.
“It is a matter of economic justice,” Trufant said at the Emmanuel Baptist Church summit Feb. 23. “There are opportunities for investment, for employment and for microbusiness. Last but not least, it is a matter of political justice.”
In New York City, a 2018 New York Times report found that black people were arrested eight times more than white non-Hispanic people for low-level possession in the past three years. Trufant and other speakers stressed the need for the records of those with nonviolent marijuana offenses to be expunged. Panelists encouraged attendees to call their local politicians to express their concern.
“This war on drugs has far too long been a war on people of color and a war on poor Americans and that’s mostly impacted my brothers, sons, fathers, and my friends,” N.Y. Attorney General Letitia James said.
The event consisted of panel discussions about how to acquire a cultivation or dispensary license, the medical benefits of cannabis, and social justice and policy reform. On the medical benefits panel, black doctors and medical practitioners dispelled the myth that marijuana is a “gateway drug” and explained how it can directly benefit black patients.
“We recognize that in a time when there are soaring health care prices, that cannabis is really a matter of protection for people who are suffering from cancer and other ailments,” Trufant said.
Kebra Smith-Bolden, a registered nurse and founder of CannaHealth, a medical marijuana clinic in New Haven, Connecticut, said the No. 1 issue people of color raise when visiting the center is post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s an issue usually associated with veterans, but African-Americans living in urban areas are also at high risk for PTSD.
“People who grew up in the ‘hood, people who saw violence in their lives, they are literally checking off every box [for PTSD symptoms],” Smith-Bolden said. “People who assume that people are just getting high; they are actually trying to medicate themselves. But they need to learn how to do it properly.”
The event was held in partnership with Women Grow, an organization cultivating women’s leadership in the marijuana industry. Gia Morón, executive vice president of Women’s Grow, said the day was monumental as it brought together many black torchbearers in the cannabis space, such as Jesce Horton, who runs Panacea Valley Gardens, one of the first black-owned cultivation businesses, and Dr. Chanda Macias, the first woman of color to open a cannabis dispensary on the East Coast. Morón hopes the summit inspired more people of color to come on board.
“I hope that today some minds were shifted,” she said. “I hope today, some questions were answered and I also hope that we have invited more people to join us in this industry, because I would love to be less the minority and I’d love to become the majority.”