By Annie Iezzi
Last weekend, Emmanuel Baptist Church, the largest African American parish in Brooklyn, teamed up with Women Grow to host “The Business of Cannabis” mini summit. The innovative, accessible event featured national, regional and local cannabis experts, including grassroots organizers, medical professionals, New York’s attorney general and its 8th District Congressman, who all spoke to and with attendees. The convention created an opportunity and a space for cannabis/hemp entrepreneurs and supporters to participate in panel discussions, workshop experiences, and conversations to educate the community.
The day began with an introduction from Pastor Anthony Trufant, who joyfully welcomed attendees and his congregation. He ensured that the conference embarked on the right foot by addressing the concerns of his congregation and the largest topic of discussion for the day- the atrocities wrought upon the African American community by the War on Drugs. This introduction poised The Business of Cannabis to foster restitution for these wrongs through the equitable inclusion of people of color in the exploding cannabis industry.
Next, Attorney General Letitia James took the stage, and she redefined the War on Drugs as a War on People of Color- an impactfully stated injustice. She elaborated on the opportunities in the legalization of cannabis to promote social justice and reiterated that drug possession is selectively prosecuted, but she highlighted the fact that changing the law is not enough. She pointed specifically to automatic record reclassification, expungement, and affordable housing reform as ways of embarking upon this journey of restitution: “We need to make sure that when we legalize cannabis, we get it right and invest in communities who need it the most.”
Hakeem Jeffries, the 8th District Congressman of New York and another incredible keynote speaker, reaffirmed the Attorney General’s goals and framed the legalization of cannabis as an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. “The war on drugs has been a massive failure,” he reiterated, advocating for the federal de-scheduling and decriminalization of cannabis.
Congressman Jeffries ceded the stage to Gia Morón, the Executive Vice President of Women Grow and first keynote speaker of the event. Among her insights into the cannabis industry and its growing presence, she introduced the nickname for leaders in this industry as “leafers”, and elucidated her personal stake in the conference, saying: “I need to see reflections of my community in this industry.”
Rounding out the impassioned conference kickoff was Dr. Chanda Macias, the CEO of the National Holistic Healing Center and the Chairwoman and CEO of Women Grow. Upon entering the cannabis industry, those close to Dr. Macias asked her if she was aware of her skin color and the implications that it would have in treating patients with cannabis, to which she replied: “Patients have become prisoners.” She aims to educate both the healthy and the ill about the medical benefits of cannabis for an astounding array of ailments. Before leaving the stage and officially beginning the conference, she urged the audience: “Do not let this be another industry that we have built and will not benefit from.”
For the remainder of the day, breakout sessions rotated in the church, covering topics including: Acquiring Cultivation or Dispensary License, The Need for Equity Programs, Social Justice and Policy Reform, Networks and Industry References in Cannabis, and The Medical Benefits of Cannabis and hemp. They lasted about an hour each, featuring a panel discussion and a Q&A portion, allowing direct conversation between industry experts, attendees, and government officials. All day, professionals circulated throughout the building to answer questions on the topic of social equity in cannabis, and visitors could visit the vendor area, home to businesses like Medicinally Jointed, an alternative health center in South Philadelphia, and the Tribeca-based CBD shop Come Back Daily.
I was lucky to attend three of the breakout sessions, beginning with Integrative Cannabinoid Medicine, presented by three women of color: all medical clinicians, a mother and her two daughters. Dr. Janice, Dr. Rachel, and Dr. Jessica Knox, founders of the American Cannabanoid Clinics, presented their expertise to make an explanation of the endocannabinoid system feel accessible. Their mission is to bring integrative medicine to patients who may have been dissuaded by cannaphobia when “conventional medicine has failed them.” In addressing the Minority Healthcare Gap, the doctors advocated for patients to look outside the pharmaceutical industry for treatment, as “Cannabis is a representation of our right to use natural means to treat our bodies.”
Next, I sat in on The Need for Equity programs and Social Justice and Policy Reform, featuring Leo Bridgewater from CannaGather New Jersey and Jason Starr and the Assistant Counsel to the Governor, among other incredible and involved cannabis advocates. Here, the specific needs of African Americans counting on social equity programs in the blooming cannabis industry were addressed, as Jeannette Horton of the New Leaf Project defined the programs as “pulling that thread through from arrest, intergenerational hurt- to bringing the economy back to those communities.” This session focused on the simple fact that those who benefit from SEP’s should look like those who have been affected by cannabis-related injustice. Emerging equity programs can take the shape of prioritized licensing for those in the industry, education, and workforce development.
Following the last breakout sessions, the Business of Cannabis convention ended just as it had begun, with an impassioned address by Pastor Trufant followed by a communal prayer, to no god in particular, for equitability and consciousness moving into the age of legalized cannabis.
To learn more about Women Grow and the business of cannabis, visit womengrow.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Go here for a list of their Signature Networking Events in different states.
See more stories from the African American community and leaders in cannabis in our print edition BLACK, coming soon!
Annie Iezzi is a second-year student at Barnard College of Columbia University, studying English and Political Science and writing in her scarce (and cherished) free time.