The Emmanuel Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York hosted a congregation of cannabis advocates recently as the church's senior pastor hosted the Business of Cannabis summit.
Nearly 1,000 people moved through the Emmanuel Baptist Church on February 23 for the summit, which attracted leaders from the medical, business and social justice sides of the marijuana movement to discuss ways to give New York's Black population a fair chance to enter the cannabis industry when the state follows through with marijuana legalization.
"It is a matter of economic justice," Pastor Anthony Trufant said during the summit. "There are opportunities for investment, for employment and for microbusiness. Last but not least, it is a matter of political justice."
Historically, Black populations have been arrested for marijuana crimes at a disproportionately higher rate than their white counterparts. Because of this social justice has become a key part of campaigns for cannabis legalization, often with advocates calling for criminal records to be expunged and for the creation of programs to help minority groups get into the business.
"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," NY Attorney General Letitia James said.
Victims of cannabis prohibition can also benefit from the plant's medicinal value, according to Kebra Smith-Bolden - a registered nurse and the founder of the Connecticut-based medical marijuana clinic CannaHealth. Smith-Bolden says the most common condition people of color seek medical marijuana treatment for at her clinic is PTSD. Many of the people arrested for cannabis use or possession are just trying to fight their trauma she says.
"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."
Speakers at the event were hopeful that attendees walked away with a better knowledge of not just how to break into the new industry, but how to best use and obtain medical marijuana. When cannabis is finally legalized in New York, they're hopeful Black business owners will be in the majority.