On Wednesday afternoon, the University of Connecticut hosted a Public Policy Race and Equity Dialogue, centered around a Cannabis Equity discussion. Andréa Comer, the Deputy Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection, moderated the panel, which included Corrie Betts, Criminal Justice Chair for the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, and Subira Gordon, the Executive Director of ConnCAN. Together, the panelists discussed a variety of topics surrounding drugs: the war on drugs, incarceration rates, solutions and more.
Comer begins the discussion by asking her panelists why they believe social equity matters in the cannabis space.
“I think it would only be fair for those who have been criminalized for selling the nickel bags and what have you in their communities, to have the opportunity to be a part of this industry without having to have so many reserves on their lives,” said Betts. “Let’s make sure there are resources for those that may not have those resources that others do.”
Gordon recalls memories from her childhood where the individual who was selling drugs was also the one helping people out in need.
“I know where I grew up, it was the person who was the drug dealer who was the person that provided for the community,” she said. “In many places, that was the person who would help with the rec league, that was the person who would help out in the community if someone could not pay their rent.”
She describes the war on drugs as an economic perspective for many individuals who were trying to provide for their families and community.
“We would not be doing our jobs and we would not be doing due diligence if we were not creating spaces in the legalized industry where these communities have, I think, a leg up,” she said.
Betts strongly agrees with Gordon’s mission to create spaces for those individuals in today’s cannabis space.
“if we are allowing young men to be nineteen (19) years old when you get arrested and you don’t know how to read, that is a failure of the system.”Subira Gordon
“I believe if we are able to change and work with policies to make sure that those communities that aren’t able and have been in that disproportionate area, have those opportunities to build economically,” he said.
Betts touches upon the importance of strong infrastructure, such as education, health and housing, to help keep communities afloat. Gordon has had her own experience with the need for strong infrastructure in her education.
When visiting the Cheshire Correctional Facility, Gordon spoke to men who didn’t even know how to read until they were incarcerated, a failure placed upon them by our education system.
“If we are allowing young men to be 19 years old when you get arrested and you don’t know how to read, that is a failure of the system,” she said. “If we cannot solve the educational issue, we will not solve any of the other issues.”
Many of these fundamental problems lie within the systems that were emplaced decades ago.
“How do you reform a system that was created to do exactly what it has been doing for years,” Betts asked. “Systems have been in place to hurt Black and Brown individuals for centuries, so how do we change that narrative and not be afraid of challenging that.”
Thankfully, the panelists today are in charge of creating the system that legalizes cannabis, which means they will construct it to the best of their ability. Their positions, the diversity in meetings and funds available are only a few things that prompt Betts, Comer and Gordon to remain hopeful in this legislation.
The featured image is from Anna Nekrashevich.