It was late spring 2018 in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, not far from Biggie’s old stomping ground, when Emmanuel Baptist church hosted a free financial empowerment workshop called Exodus: Exiting Egypt. The all day seminar was well attended by members of the congregation and featured panels on general topics like debt relief and estate planning.
What would set this event apart from others likely to be held at churches around the country with a vested interest in their community base were two unexpected workshops: Understanding Bitcoin, and The Business of Cannabis.
Being a member of EBC, I was amazed to discover that I could explore both topics of interest at my home church in a completely judgment-free zone, and decided to attend. I understood that these just were not your average subjects among Black churchgoers, and particularly not discussed at the house of the Lord. Or so I thought!
I’ll be honest. Part of my motivation was to attend just to see who else would be in the room. And considering the handful of people who sat around the table listening to Gia Morón, Executive Vice President of Women Grow, it didn’t really dawn on me that eight months later her organization would collaborate with Emmanuel to create the first ever church-hosted Business of Cannabis Conference.
So how did all of this come about, anyway? Ten minutes into that first low-key workshop, Reverend Anthony L. Trufant, better known as Rev., sauntered into the room to all of our amazement, and sat down to join the discussion. With great joy, he and Gia recounted a chance meeting, one that both believed was orchestrated by the hand of God.
Months earlier, they both had arrived at Penn Station on the same train and decided to share an Uber back to Brooklyn. During that divine appointment, Rev. asked Ms. Morón what she’d been up to, completely unaware that her answer would lead to a destined partnership between his church and Women Grow.
“$105 million: The estimated annual sales tax revenue generated by medical marijuana dispensaries in California, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports legalization.”
Her countenance lit up as Gia explained her current role with the nationwide advocacy organization that supports women with connections to help them own and lead cannabis related businesses. Admittedly, she was a little apprehensive, sharing the details of a perceived controversial, if not taboo, choice of profession.
But Gia’s conviction for and commitment to dismantling what she felt were distorted, negative imaging and factually inaccurate beliefs related to cannabis, across the board, led her to share her testimony with Reverend Trufant.
It was the passion in her words, her keen fact-based knowledge, and her personal experience that convinced Rev. that Emmanuel would not only benefit from, but welcome her message as a cannabis evangelist. Taking a risk, to Gia’s surprise, he invited her to speak at the financial empowerment workshop months later.
From that chance meeting, and two small breakout sessions up on the second floor of the church, the vision for The Business of Cannabis Conference was established. And what has come to fruition nearly a year later is a cannabis event of great proportion, never before seen within the confines of a religious institution.
Certainly not the Black Baptist church. But unlike the meeting in June, this event emerged as a hot ticket item, selling out weeks in advance to attendees with varying levels of interest in cannabis from across the country.
“$134.6 million: The amount of estimated tax revenue Maryland would earn every year if it legalized and regulated marijuana, according to a 2014 estimate from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.”
Very little was announced beforehand of what to expect beyond the workshop titles to register for during the week leading into the conference. The panels included: Acquiring Cultivation or Dispensary Licenses; Ancillary Businesses/Careers in Cannabis; Integrative Cannabinoid Medicine by the Knox Family; Medical Benefits of Cannabis and Hemp; The Need for Equity Programs; Cannabis 101; Social Justice and Policy Reform; Destigmatizing Cannabis; Parenting and Cannabis: Learning Together; Healing with Hemp, CBD and Cannabis: topicals, vapes, edibles, and more; Types of Businesses in Cannabis; and, Networks and Industry Conferences in Cannabis.
In addition to these twelve breakouts, there were five Q&A rooms where attendees could pop in and speak with professionals from the industry, which included: What is Unaccredited Investing?, How to Enter the Cannabis Industry, Questions About Legalization of Cannabis, Ask the Medical and Science Professionals, and, Opportunities for Women in Cannabis.
Each panel included POC and women entrepreneurs, attorneys and advocates, dispensary owners and growers, medical doctors and researchers, business analysts, public relations professionals, and content creators. Several cannabis advocacy and media groups from coast to coast contributed to panels including Estrohaze, Cannaclusive, MJM Strategies, Cannagather, and the Minority Cannabis Business Association.
A common thread among the speakers was that each one managed to take their prior work experiences and parlay that expertise into the cannabis industry. Moving throughout the day you could truly feel the essence of the mantra: Whatever YOU do, do it in cannabis!
As if the outpouring and overwhelming amount of information were not enough, the conference also welcomed a riveting keynote address from the CEO of Women Grow, Dr. Chanda Macias on dispelling the myths of cannabis. Dr. Macias, who earned her Ph.D. from Howard University with a concentration in Cell Biology, evoked the passion of civil rights leaders as she beseeched the packed audience with her searing words. She implored us to take our rightful ownership in this fight for equity for people of color within the cannabis industry as legalization, from the state to the federal level, continues to take shape.
An overarching theme of the conference was the Social Justice component that points to why it has become an imperative to demand Equity Day One in cannabis legislation as the end of marijuana prohibition nears. Social Equity simply means reinvesting a portion of the newly generated capital from the legalized cannabis industry directly into Black and Latino communities.
These are the neighborhoods that were impacted by unprecedented marijuana arrests and convictions due to Nixon’s damaging War on Drugs campaign. Research studies and anecdotal knowledge have starkly proven how the War on Drugs targeted communities of color, grossly contributing to the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Because of this, advocates in the multibillion dollar industry are demanding that these very people are poised to stake their claim now that the same marijuana plant that locked up scores of men and women is being sold in their neighborhoods primarily by white-owned cannabis companies. “Do not miss this boat…,” Dr. Macias charged the audience, who responded in agreement.
Adding to the progressive conversation were remarks by New York State Attorney General, Letitia James; Congressman Hakeem Jeffries; Assistant Counsel to Governor Cuomo, Jason Starr; Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo; Senator Velmanette Montgomery; and, Brooklyn District Attorney, Eric Gonzalez.
Each representative acknowledged the need for deliberate goals and strategic policy planning on the part of advocates, lobbyists, constituents and elected officials to be on the right side of history by creating legislation with day one social equity as New York State approaches legalized recreational cannabis in 2019.
Lobbyists also distributed form letters urging attendees to be a part of the political process by contacting their Senators and Representatives in Albany so that they are fully aware of the demand for Equity Day One.
As the reverend, Anthony Trufant, thanked Gia Morón’s and his own staff for working so tirelessly around the clock to pull off this crowning achievement, particularly during Black History Month, you couldn’t help but feel how monumental and historic this day was.
Revolutionary in his own right, Trufant is a Morehouse College educated faith-based visionary with a commitment to moral and social justice, which is why he was entrusted with this mission to help bridge the gap between the cannabis community and the church, despite initial pushback from some of EBC’s established members.
When both he and Dr. Chanda prayed from the pulpit, there was a sincere and humbled thanksgiving each expressed to God for the many health and wellness benefits of the cannabis plant. “We thank you for reminding us that You have already placed on the planet resources that can help us to ease pain, resources that will enable us to move forward as a community, and to provide economic opportunities.
We pray, oh God, that you will enable us in the justice work, to join our Brooklyn DA and our Attorney General for the State of New York, as well as our legislature and governor as they deal with legislation that is pending. May we, the citizens, give them the support and the backing that they need to take this courageous step. And finally, God, we pray for men and women, boys and girls who are in great pain today.
We pray that they will experience some degree of relief, that they will have an opportunity to be able to partake of that which you’ve planted so that the pain will be eased for them. Oh God, as we go our respective ways, be with us. We ask this in the name of our God. Amen.”
– Contributed by Mai Perkins
Mai Perkins is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world, with several blogs under her belt including Uberlicious.nyc and MaiOnTheMove.com. She is a contributing writer for the music publication Pop-Mag.com, and has written for Relevant and Bust Magazine.
With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MA in International Affairs from The New School, she reps her beloved alma mater, Howard University, every chance she gets. As a poet and a non-fiction writer, she has just published her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending, available now on Amazon & Kindle.
Twitter: @flymai on Twitter