FCBJ – By Justin McGown.

The Alliance for Cannabis Equity (ACE), a collaboration between Connecticut Community Outreach Revitalization Program (ConnCORP) and The WorkPlace, a Bridgeport-based incubator and workforce development board, has released the Cannabis Manifesto, a document designed to aid Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs and workers in understanding how they can take full advantage of the emerging recreational marijuana industry in Connecticut.

The 93-page manifesto, which was published online, is designed to lay out the organization’s mission and goals and serve as a reference document for those seeking to understand why people of color should make full use of the opportunities for economic advancement provided by the state’s legalization of recreational use.

“Social equity is at the core,” said Fred McKinney, co-founder of the economic analysis and consulting firm BJM Solutions, in a Feb. 24 press conference announcing the manifesto. McKinney praised the state’s efforts to center its marijuana policy on offsetting some of the harms of years of racism and bias in drug enforcement.

“But, I know enough about social equity to know that it takes more than words,” he added. “It really takes an effort to make it a reality. So, when I embarked on writing the Cannabis Manifesto we wanted to suggest that this is something that we hope will have an impact that will shake things up.”

In addition to explaining the thinking behind the document he helped create, McKinney shared the story of how close he came to having his life derailed by marijuana policy. He had just finished his freshman year at UCLA before returning to his native Washington, D.C., where he had a job for the city’s Recreation Department at the historic Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. McKinney’s brother drove him to his first day of work and was pulled over by a police officer in front of the building. His brother, unbeknownst to him, had a joint in his possession. The officer arrested both of them, which was witnessed by McKinney’s new employer.

“I consider myself incredibly lucky because we had a lawyer who made the case to the judge to give these two young men a chance,” he recalled. “If we hadn’t had that chance, who knows where my life would have gone.

“A lot of people didn’t get a chance after they were arrested for cannabis. And so, this isn’t just some sort of academic exercise for me. You can look at the literal millions of Americans who have been negatively impacted by cannabis since 1973. I think we have an opportunity here to correct for some social wrongs and to take advantage of legalization of recreational cannabis in Connecticut.”

While McKinney was instrumental in writing the manifesto, Joseph Carbone, the president and CEO of Workplace, and Carlton Highsmith, the board chairman for ConnCORP, will also play important roles in administering the ACE.

Highsmith highlighted how the ACE website will also help people understand if they are in one of the Disproportionately Impacted Areas (DIA). Residents of those areas will have the opportunity to apply for a number of “Equity Licenses” set aside by the state to help ensure that those impacted by the war on drugs are able to benefit from legalization. 

Highsmith pointed out that it is “not surprisingly that most of Bridgeport is considered a DIA, large tracks of New Haven as well. It’s our urban centers where the over-policing of cannabis was most dramatically felt in Connecticut.”

Carbone also emphasized the importance of ACE providing fully accessible information. He characterized ACE as being the go-to source for anybody with questions about what impacts the eligibility of somebody seeking a marijuana sales license or considering a job in the industry.

“We are here to do the right thing,” Carbone declared. “It’s not personal. It’s not about the institutions that we’re part of. We are here to do the right thing and ensure that opportunity is present. We’re going to be vigilant and we’re going to be thorough and we’re going to be fair. We’re going to try to do what’s right.”

New initiative seeks to expand cannabis industry to Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs