Brooklyn’s Emmanuel Baptist Church (EBC), 279 Lafayette Avenue in Clinton Hill, this past weekend became the first church in the United States to host a summit aimed at educating, empowering and readying the black community to participate in the budding $11 billion cannabis industry, according to organizers.
The 132 year-old church, led by Rev. Anthony L. Trufant, partnered with, Women Grow, an organization focused on creating opportunities in the cannabis industry for women and people of color.
As a new member of the church, I’m thrilled to claim Rev. Trufant’s characterization of the EBC as a progressive, proactive congregation willing to take risks. In fact, while some churches talk around or ignore pressing issues, my family and I have sat in the pews of EBC while Rev. Trufant and Senior Pastor Shareka Newton unapologetically addressed sexual abuse, racism, other “-isms,” and the joys and challenges of, not just being black, but being a person living in these times.
The event called, “The Business of Cannabis,” was reported in the mainstream media as an effort to help minorities get jobs in the industry. However, that was an over simplification of the efforts of the church, a stalwart in the Black community, and Women Grow.
Organizers elevated the experience with workshops covering the medicinal uses of cannabis and hemp, and related healthcare issues; social justice and policy; equity programs; and ancillary business opportunities, and ownership. This event was developed to prepare attendees to seize economic opportunities, and destigmatize cannabis. This event was the first step in having minorities to take charge of a narrative that they have been cast on the wrong side of for too many years.
“Too many cases communities of color seem to be left at the station while the train of opportunity pulls out. So this is an instance to talk about and inform our community, our constituency on cannabis,” said Rev. Trufant.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James, one of the most prominent members of Emmanuel Baptist Church, and one of the opening speakers at the event, doubled down on her support for legalization of cannabis for recreational use saying arrests were down 94% in states were it was legalized.
James has always made her opinion heard and her intentions clear. She wants the expungement of certain marijuana related arrest records, a community investment fund and other measures to be included in legislation that would legalize cannabis.
The attorney general demanded any legislation legalizing marijuana should “be done right.” Like many advocates for legalization the James highlighted the impact of the war on drugs in the black community including looking to the history of incarceration and the devastation the war on drugs. Each opening speaker referenced this painful part of African-American history in the United States. In spite of the movement toward legalization and refusals to arrest for small quantities of marijuana, black and brown people continue to bare the brunt of police activities.
According to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, marijuana related arrests declined last year from 17,121 in 2017 to 7,348 as of late November 2018. However, 89% of New Yorkers arrested for smoking marijuana last year were either black or Hispanic while 7% were white.
The cost of getting a license to open a dispensary, cultivate and even deliver marijuana will range from $2 million to $250,000. The average person of color previously impacted by the war on drugs will not have this kind of money laying around, in fact many cannot afford to post bail when arrested for small amounts of marijuana. Real, practical and actionable steps need to be taken to allow of black and brown people of all economic standings to participate in the cannabis industry.
Well over 200 people, many of them white, settled into the pews of EBC for the forum. No one was turned away but the mission was clear, Emmanuel Baptist Church has continued a tradition of supporting the black community.
Churches in the black tradition have always been the backbone of the black community, providing comfort, resources and at their best community organization and mobilization. We would do well to have community organizations, community leaders, and more come together to empower communities that have been broken by a plant that will reap billions for a country that through history has denied black and brown people wealth, and even the fruits of their labor.