HARTFORD, Conn. — The effects of the war on drugs on communities of color have not gone away, the state's Social Equity Council said, adding that the legalization of cannabis in Connecticut provides an opportunity to change the tide.
The council met Thursday morning with Gov. Ned Lamont to outline its plans moving forward, which involves allocating tax revenue from retail cannabis sales to communities that have been directly affected by the war on drugs.
"You want to give communities a chance, you want to give entrepreneurs a chance, you want to give young people a chance," Lamont said.
Tax revenue from retail cannabis sales is estimated to be $30-40 billion a year.
The tax revenue will be put toward integrating members of the affected communities into the cannabis-oriented workforce as producers or retailers, improving education, expunging incarceration records for cannabis-related charges and funding drug abuse rehabilitation efforts, the council said.
"I think the $40 million in possible tax that we will receive over the years will be something significant. We'll finally have, within the community of black and brown, a way to wealth creation. I think truly this is an opportunity to see the 40 acres and a mule of our ancestors," UConn Small Business Development Center advisor Joseph Williams said.
For those looking to get into the cannabis retail business, these communities have fewer friends-and-family financial resources to help them get started. The Social Equity Council is looking to change that.
"We're your friends and family, right here," Lamont said.
These efforts will kickstart when retail sales begin at the end of 2022.
As for select cannabis convictions, those between January 2000 and October 2015 will be automatically erased. Convictions outside those dates can be erased with a petition, David Lehman, the commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development and member of the Council, said.
"We want Connecticut to be the gold standard in this when other states think about legalizing," he said.
The 15 members of the council committed to the following responsibilities: creating programs for those affected by the War on Drugs to participate in the cannabis market, qualifying social equity applicants, and deciding how to funnel the tax revenue back to the affected communities.
Other members of the council had personal stakes in its operations as well.
"As a Black woman in America, I've seen the impact of the war on drugs on my community. And I'm really interested to see how here in Connecticut we can get this right," Subira Gordon, the executive director at ConnCAN, said.
Interim Deputy Commissioner in the Department of Consumer Protection and chairperson of the Social Equity Council Andrea Comer said she saw kids in affected communities turn away from education and toward the illegal drug economy just to support themselves and their families.
"I see this as a unique opportunity, not only to reverse that course but also on the back end to really invest in communities," she said.
Right now, the Social Equity Council is running behind on their agenda, but Governor Lamont said he is confident they will catch up.
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