Bridging the Gap: How the Church and Cannabis Can Help Communities

By Andrew Ward on May 20, 2019

While the Church still wields an influential voice in many communities across the country, it is waning in many American demographics, though its importance in communities is still evident to this day. Such influence comes from figures who helped shape cultural and political landscapes through their voices and actions.

Reverend Anthony Trufant is the Senior Pastor at the historic Emmanuel Baptist Church (EBC) in Brooklyn. Through the years, Rev. Trufant’s work has compelled the church community and its workers to expand their efforts and think outside the box. In the past few months, he has continued to exemplify this approach by tapping into the cannabis community.

In doing so, Rev. Trufant and EBC became the first church to host a national cannabis conference. More importantly, the event spoke to the needs of the congregation, a 4,000-plus community of color that knows the ramifications of the failed War on Drugs.

Momentum for what would become the Business of Cannabis convention began in February 2018. On a train ride from Baltimore to New York City, Gia Morón, Director of Communications for Women Grow, saw a familiar face, Rev. Trufant. Upon exiting the train at Penn Station, Morón and Rev. Trufant linked up and decided to share an Uber back home to Brooklyn.

During their journey, they got to talking about work. "In my mind, I thought 'here's your chance,' and I told him I'm in the cannabis industry. I was really surprised by the response," Morón said. The pastor wanted to learn more about something he had begun to explore himself. After talking about her work in Women Grow, as well as her own branding business, Morón moved onto the issues concerning cannabis and their community.

"By the time we arrived at my location, his impression changed,” she explained. “He had been reading about it, but now he had a whole new perspective on the cannabis industry. He had not considered the examples I had given him, even outside medicinal and business opportunities."

The two would continue discussions into the early summer, with Morón attending a non-cannabis church event to understand the congregation better, where she realized the opportunity EBC offered. The community was made up of both young and old, allowing her to touch on various demographics. The seniors wanted to learn about medicinal benefits, while young people wanted to learn about business opportunities and what they should be learning to maximizing their opportunities.

Meanwhile, Morón opened the opportunity to like-minded cannabis organizations, including Minorities for Medical MarijuanaMinority Cannabis Business AssociationCannaGather and Cannaclusive. "I just contacted other organizations like Women Grow and said, ‘Hey, here's an opportunity we've all been looking for across the country. Why don't we all come together and work with the Church?’"

From there, an agenda was assembled to meet the needs of the large and diverse EBC community. A three-track panel was offered to allow attendees to gather as much information as possible.

On February 23, 2019, the Business of Cannabis conference was held at EBC in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. In addition to Rev. Trufant, prominent names in attendance included Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, New York Attorney General Letitia James as well as scores of entrepreneurs and activists from the black and brown communities.

Roz McCarthy is the founder and CEO of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, and spoke at several sessions during the event. They included discussions on licensing, cannabis businesses and CBD shops. She noted the industry's efforts to create social equity programs, but noted that a considerable inequity remains. She attributed this to overly restrictive state and local policies, a lack of startup capital, and a dearth of knowledge and expertise in the nascent industry.

"Rather than talking about the equity programs being proposed, let's talk about ideas and solutions that offer a multi-disciplined approach to balancing the equity scale," she said. McCarthy pointed out several issues that need to be addressed. They include the expungement of criminal records and the redistribution of tax revenues to communities impacted most by the War on Drugs.

McCarthy also spoke about untapped opportunities in the black and brown communities. Farming was one such subject that doesn't receive coverage, and she explained why: "Minority farming is not discussed in mainstream cannabis and hemp conversations because the farmers who have farmed for years are getting older and unfortunately their offspring and family are not picking up the mantle and continuing the farming tradition."

To remedy the issue, McCarthy suggested tapping into historically black colleges and universities. "The urban farmer is waning. We need to be partnering with our HBCU land grant universities that provide students with an education in Agriculture and Agriculture Engineering who are hoping to go back and support their family-owned farms."

Rev. Trufant had mentioned that some of EBC's members were not supportive of the idea. That said, the pastor saw the importance of cannabis for the community from a variety of needs ranging from finance to political.

On the day of the event, Morón reported that the majority of the audience was ready to learn about cannabis. "It was amazing," she noted. "Unfortunately, some people were against it, I'd say 80 to 85 percent were more for it. And we changed a lot of minds that day."

Speakers included Jesce Horton, co-founder of Nuleaf, a Portland, Oregon-based company aimed at addressing capital, education and connection hurdles between people of color and cannabis. Horton saw a community ready to learn while remaining skeptical about the reality of a fair cannabis industry.

“The audience was clear what they wanted from the cannabis legalization movement: decriminalization, tax dollars funneled to communities disproportionately targeted by cannabis prohibition enforcement, sensible paths to business ownership, cannabis health education, and family wage employment opportunities,” he explained.

Meanwhile, McCarthy noted the audience's keen awareness for the national participation of people of color in the industry. “They were very inquisitive. They were looking for a starting point.”

EBC Event Planner and Creative Director Nicolle Munroe was "blown away" by the range of information on display. "The Business of Cannabis conference demystified a lot of information surrounding cannabis and its uses." She elaborated on the wealth of information and its importance to the community.

"We had a plethora of knowledgeable speakers, vendors and politicians who supported these efforts. The various workshops such as Careers in Cannabis, Social Justice & Policy Reform, The Need For Equity Programs and Dispensary Licensing, to name a few, were all crucial to up-leveling our knowledge base to be included in an industry that was designed to keep us out, non-profitable and locked up because of it."

Morón said the EBC now has plans to continue the program as a year-round addition to the Church’s calendar, delving deeper into specific subjects covered at the conference. These sessions should provide attendees with more "drilled down conversations," according to Morón.

Munroe agrees with the additional cannabis offerings at EBC. More so, she agreed that EBC’s progressive steps will benefit the community and needs to reach other congregations. "For a church to introduce and create this platform to make sure that we have an equity stake that can create an impact and leave a legacy for generations to come, is truly groundbreaking and commendable. This information needs to be replicated at other churches so that they can all explore their options in legal cannabis."

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