by Monica Wrobel
On April 20, 2019, Buffalo residents huddled together in MLK Park to commemorate 420 Community Day in a new tradition of service and celebration. Despite the chilly afternoon, the gathering was no solemn scene. Music thumped over the rain, barbecue sizzled on the grill, and guest speakers made passionate and articulate remarks to educate on the community benefits that legalized adult-use cannabis can offer our city. Undeterred by the elements, this informative and uplifting event bore testament to the spirit of community resilience in the face of deep barriers to racial equity – disinvestment and unequal marijuana enforcement in black and brown neighborhoods. Through the innovative partnerships of activists, political leaders, entrepreneurs, and everyday citizens, the statewide movement to end cannabis prohibition presents an opening to reclaim and restore justice and economic prosperity for people of color.
To reimagine the meaning of the 420 date, Open Buffalo led volunteers in a morning of service to deliver healthy food boxes to families living in ‘food deserts,’ areas of the city with few nutritious and affordable options. With the African Heritage Food Co-Op providing fresh produce and staple items, Open Buffalo successfully organized deliveries of over one hundred free food boxes across 16 zip codes! This collaborative project motivated participants and framed the day’s activities with a shared purpose – to respond fully to our communities of color, who have endured lacking resources and opportunities for far too long. Food insecurity is only one challenge in black and brown neighborhoods that hunger for equal access to health, education, safety, and economic growth. Our commitment to transform such realities of inequity must both consider people’s immediate needs and advance solutions that empower them to thrive.
Energized from the successful food distribution, volunteers came together with city residents and honored guests for the afternoon cookout. Overcast weather could not dampen this occasion to learn and celebrate how opportunities for community revitalization can emerge from reforming New York’s marijuana laws. India Walton, Community Organizer at Open Buffalo, likened this willingness to ‘show up’ in dreary conditions to the perseverance needed from everyday citizens to ‘show up’ for a just and equitable cannabis policy. “People get arrested for marijuana possession when it’s snowing, when it’s hailing, when it’s raining, or when it’s 100 degrees. You have to have that same energy when it comes to demanding justice for our community.”
While attendees enjoyed a classic backyard barbecue by ‘The Chefs,’ each event sponsor spoke on the next steps to ensure that decriminalization, community reinvestment, and an inclusive industry are foremost in any statewide legalization of adult-use cannabis.
In a highly anticipated appearance, New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes gave a keynote on how our state government can promote these restorative goals. Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes is the leading proponent for passage of the Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act, with clear demands on how a legal cannabis industry in New York must repair harms done to people of color. Should marijuana legalization pass, the governor’s office has estimated as much as $300 million a year in tax revenue. The assemblywoman’s bill will ensure that disenfranchised communities benefit from those funds and are situated to enter cannabis industry sectors – not just big developers. “Communities and the underground industry must be engaged from day one,” said Peoples-Stokes. “If we don’t do that, then we’ve failed.”
Representatives from The Hood Incubator and FarmacySix gave more context on the prospects of inclusive industry as a tool of racial and economic justice. “We are working to use this cannabis legalization moment as an opportunity to build power for black communities that have been negatively impacted and devastated by the drug war,” said Ebele Ifedigbo, co-founder of The Hood Incubator. Ifedigbo spoke to the aims of their non-profit to create a healthy and sustainable economic model that will center black and brown folks. Building on that work, FarmacySix highlighted the importance of demystifying the implications of a legal cannabis industry in our state. In a series of informative skits, FarmacySix discussed emerging cannabis sectors for medical, sports, and recreational-use, as well as debunked common misconceptions on regulation and distribution. Both organizations addressed how grassroots economic development can address cultural stigmas and racial disparities around adult-use marijuana.
Whatever a person’s interest in cannabis reform, 420 Community Day emphasized that the average person can help shift a destructive legacy of racially biased prohibition through civic participation. Open Buffalo’s Executive Director, Franchelle Parker, reiterated how community members can express the significance of community benefits to their state representatives, especially as New York lawmakers consider marijuana legalization in this legislative session. “Your legislators need to know that items like expungement and direct resources into our community are not an option.”
Special thanks to our event partners, detailed below, and to Councilmember Wingo of Masten District for providing venue space to support this community event!
About our event partners:
The African Heritage Food Co-Op is focused on giving access to healthy food, creating local employment, and taking ownership of our food system. As a local and worker-owned business, their vision is to create a just and livable world wherein inner-city communities can eat, better employ themselves, and prevent predatory pricing.
Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes is the first female Majority Leader of the New York State Assembly. Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes champions a policy of cannabis legalization that will restore justice and economic opportunity in our communities through decriminalization and the reinvestment of dollars generated by a legal cannabis industry.
The Hood Incubator works to increase the participation of Black and Brown communities in the legal cannabis industry. Through three core areas of work – community organizing, policy advocacy, and economic development – they are creating a healthy and sustainable ecosystem of industry access, resources, and support that benefits, rather than harms, Black and Brown communities.
FarmacySix is dedicated to being the premier information and resource Hub for the communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. From providing guidance to emerging cannabis entrepreneurs or advising a concerned parent on today’s cannabis climate, their goal is to mine for expert advice and ensure it is both available and consumable.
Flora Buffalo aspires to build a high-tech cannabis campus in Buffalo, NY, combining innovation with social impact. The company is committed to social equity and community restoration through cannabis legalization.