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The Cannabis Manifesto

Research from the Alliance of Cannabis Equity CT

The full draft of the manifesto can be found here:

The Cannabis Manifesto for Social Equity

Purpose of the Cannabis Manifesto

The purpose of the Cannabis Manifesto (CM) is to provide BIPOC entrepreneurs and workers a trusted document and website that can be used to answer questions about the new legal recreational cannabis industry in Connecticut.  The State of Connecticut has taken aggressive steps to include social equity as a core component of its legalization of cannabis because of a prior history of disparate impact and discrimination in the enforcement of cannabis laws that resulted in ruined lives and damaged communities. 

One primary audience of the CM are BIPOC entrepreneurs who may not have the financial resources, the human resources, the social connections, or the business and legal experiences to be successful in what will be a very competitive industry. The second audience is BIPOC workers who are interested in career opportunities in this new and dynamic industry. 

As we approach the publication of this document, the Social Equity Council (SEC) is still developing rules for both social equity (SE) entrepreneurs and workers.  For this reason, we are developing a CM website that is not meant to replace the SEC’s website but is a supplement to the written CM for BIPOC entrepreneurs and workers. 

It is also important to say what the CM is not intended to accomplish.  The CM is not advocating the recreational use of cannabis. The CM is not intended to train BIPOC entrepreneurs how to grow, manufacture, or transport cannabis.  The CM is not intended to be a substitute for the legal assistance BIPOC cannabis entrepreneurs and workers may need to be successful in the industry. 

Cannabis Manifesto Section Overview

The Cannabis Manifesto spans a variety of topics that could be useful for entrepreneurs, workers, citizens, and policy makers. The information from the manifesto is shared on this website through different sections. Click any section below to get started:


Statements from representatives of The WorkPlace and ConnCORP

Case Studies

Examples of successful cannabis businesses


Overview of the challenges with inequity in the cannabis industry and potential solutions


Frequently Asked Question every worker in the cannabis industry needs to know


Introduction to the cannabis industry and legislation in Connecticut


Legal analysis of expungement of past cannabis criminal records


Frequently Asked Questions that every cannabis entrepreneur needs to know


External resources for social equity entrepreneurs and workers


Joe Carbone's Statement

The Alliance for Cannabis Equity (ACE) provides a trusted resource for those interested in assuring that the social equity provisions related to adult-use cannabis are fully realized. ACE will focus on social equity and the economic opportunities for Black and Brown entrepreneurs and minority workers across the state of Connecticut in the emerging cannabis industry. This collaboration will support underserved communities with resources to develop enterprises and provide workers with training to access careers with good paying, quality employment.

The cannabis industry is producing the fastest growing jobs in this country, with strong wages that have the capacity to lift disenfranchised individuals into America’s middle class, creating careers rather than just jobs. The legalization of cannabis introduces a brand-new growth industry to Connecticut that will produce hundreds of new jobs from new businesses and millions of dollars of wealth created.

Workforce training for all levels of careers within the industry are necessary. The cannabis industry will require jobs in many areas: growing, selling, and marketing cannabis products, transportation and other skills that require diverse types of workforce training. Well run organizations will require new workforce training to save and make money and build a culture of excellence through employee learning: on-boarding, training, and upskilling.

Professionally training and developing a cannabis workforce, which includes individuals from neighborhoods that were disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition, will result in higher quality talent and retention, better service to customers, added safety and consistency to cannabis products, and increased confidence, sustainability, and value to the industry.

We strive to ensure that those impacted by the war on drugs can reap the benefits of these opportunities. The hardest thing that I have found in my 25 years at The WorkPlace is helping people to raise their expectations for themselves. Cannabis continues to evolve and, as it does, ACE will lead efforts to establish a new level of professionalism, reliability, and help build the cannabis industry by providing quality training and education.

ACE will support social equity initiatives across the state helping people realize what is possible. Opportunity waits for those willing to challenge themselves in the new cannabis industry. Our job is to help them seize this moment.

Joseph Carbone

President & CEO

The WorkPlace

Carl Highsmith's Statement

The “WHY” of the collaboration between The WorkPlace and ConnCORP and the publishing of this “Manifesto”is deeply rooted in the WHY ofConnCORP’s mission to advance economic opportunities for New Haven’s under-served populations.

For far too long the creativity, the ingenuity and the resourcefulness ofthis community has not been fully realized.There are mountains of untapped potential, embedded within the hopes and dreams of those who live in Connecticut’s urban centers who thirst for a better life for themselves and their families.


The legalization of cannabis introduces a brand new growth industry into Connecticut.

  • Hundreds, if not thousands, of new jobs will be created.

  • Dozens of new businesses will be formed.

  • And millions, if not billions, of dollars of wealth created.


Provisions of the law aim to insure that Black and Brown communities that have been adversely impacted by disparate marijuana law enforcement policies over the decades not be left behind; but also benefit from this new industry. But there is a knowledge gap that needs to be bridged. Linkages that convey reliable and trusted information about the real opportunities being created by the cannabis industry to those the law was intended to benefit must be made. This “Manifesto” is designed to be one of those linkages.


We believe the time is now for this authoritative, independent, trusted and well researched resource guide …

  • to inform

  • to educate

  • to advise

  • and to provide guidance to those interested in assuring that the equity provisions of the law are fully realized.


This Alliance for Cannabis Equity was formed and this “Manifesto” is being published to be that authoritative, independent, trusted and well researched resource guide.

We will make our ACE Manifesto widely available throughout the community.

We will host community listening and information sharing sessions at the ConnCORP Lab in Hamden, once the Manifesto is published, so that we know clearly that our community is informed.

We will make the “Manifesto” available to interested policy-makers as you continue to write the final implementation rules for the industry.


We will host information sessions and convenings for people interested in entering the cannabis workforce to connect them with the training and workforce development initiatives that Joe Carbone at The WorkPlace, and others, will be launching.


We are delighted to partner in this initiative with my good friend, Joe Carbone, at The WorkPlace, one of the most innovative workforce development agencies in the nation.


Carlton L Highsmith

ConnCORP, Board Chairman

CM Section Overview


The legal cannabis industry is growing rapidly. Currently valued at $9.1 billion, experts project a 26.7% annual growth rate throughout the next decade.  However, the gains from this boom have not been distributed equitably—women and minorities are underrepresented participants in the industry. This is largely the result of institutional barriers to financial capital as well as legacies of disadvantage produced by the War on Drugs. This War ravaged lower income communities of color via disproportionate policing and disparate application of drug laws. However, both public and private actors are working to encourage equitable industry participation; government entities are introducing legislation to ensure minority participation, while prominent private investors are launching initiatives to improve outcomes for interested minority entrepreneurs. Thus, while the cannabis industry continues to face significant inequity, advocates are currently working to improve these outcomes

Describing the Problem

Minorities currently comprise a disproportionately small share of the legal cannabis market. For example, 81% of cannabis business owners and founders were White in 2017, leaving minority ownership at just 19%. The challenges of minority participation in the cannabis industry seem to extend beyond the traditional challenges faced by minority entrepreneurs. Nationwide, 29% of all American businesses are minority-owned, indicating that the cannabis industry lags behind. This issue is particularly acute for the African American and Latinx communities, who make up just 4.3% and 5.7% of cannabis business founders respectively, figures significantly smaller than their 14% and 19% respective shares., Women face similar obstacles when breaking into the cannabis industry. The share of female C-suite officers at cannabis companies is only 25%.  Among the five largest cannabis companies in the nation, only 3 board members were women in 2018.   The industry is dominated by men.


National market trends are consistent at the state level.  In Colorado, one of the earliest states to support legalization of cannabis, “only 6% of both marijuana business owners and employees were Black.” In Massachusetts, “next to no Blacks or Latinos apply for licenses.” In Washington State, just 3% of cannabis companies are owned by Blacks., It is clear that across all levels, women and minorities face significant barriers to entering the industry.

Causes of the Problem

The cannabis industry has significant up-front barriers to entry, namely high capital expenditures. Experts estimate that launching a dispensary or cultivation requires between $750,000 to $1 million. Unfortunately, minority owners face difficulties raising capital. Because cannabis remains illegal at the Federal level, “big banks won’t provide loans, and people of color have more trouble getting venture capital.” Some analysts find the lack of capital to be prohibitive for BIPOC entrepreneurs, claiming that “minority ownership in the space is going to be very low until there is more access to capital, more access to low interest loans, and better banking practices.” The inequities in the cannabis industry will persist without changes to this financial infrastructure.

The legacy of the War on Drugs also prevents minorities from entering the cannabis industry. As is true in many industries, formerly incarcerated individuals struggle more acutely than their never incarcerated competitors to raise capital. It is also more difficult for formerly incarcerated applicants to receive legal cannabis licenses. As Black and Latinx Americans are more likely to be arrested for marijuana than White Americans (among other crimes), prospective minority entrepreneurs are disproportionately excluded from industry participation. Even after a formerly incarcerated business owner receives a license, capital continues to prevent market entry.  One cannabis entrepreneur describes this dynamic as “the farce of social equity.” Even if you get a license, “now you have the license, but you don’t have the money.”

The disproportionate impacts of the War on Drugs are not surprising to many, but its existence is further compounded by the racial underpinnings of marijuana’s original prohibition almost 40 years before the official War on Drugs (and resulting mass incarceration schemes) begun. What follows is a brief account of this history.

The plant Cannabis sativa, commonly known today as Cannabis or Marijuana, has been cultivated around the globe for at least 5,000 years.  The plant has various identities around the world, as “dagga” in Africa, "ma" in China, and “hemp” in Northern Europe. However, despite its pervasiveness in world cultures, it has a storied history grounded in immense racial prejudice and xenophobia.

The earliest perceptions of the plant in American history indicate that hemp was not considered a shameful or damaging substance. Instead, early American settlers actively encouraged hemp production to produce paper and textiles, even going so far as to mandate production by every farmer in Virginia (1619). Upon later discovery of the plant’s medicinal properties in the 1800s, by Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, “cannabis” extracts pervaded pharmacies, offering remedies for such ailments as stomach aches and migraines.

Largely positive sentiments toward the plant turned toward the end of the 19th century, starting with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 which prohibited misbranded or adulterated food and drug products. Medicine producers were now required to list cannabis on their labels, so customers could avoid the drug if so desired. While the plant remained legal, the Act laid the groundwork for cannabis prohibition, establishing a precedent for banishment of products by the Federal government.

While this legislative history might suggest that the eventual criminalization of marijuana/cannabis to be grounded in scientific evidence, other factors were at play. Within a few years of the Act’s passage, Mexican immigration to the Southwestern United States exploded as the Mexican people sought to evade the political upheaval and violence produced by the Mexican revolution (1910).  While U.S. corporate investment in agriculture created many new wages labor opportunities for these Mexican immigrants, they were not favorably received by much of the broader populace. In the words of a Stanford University Professor in a 1912 article published in a leading journal, “socially and politically the presence of large numbers of Mexicans in this country gives rise to serious problems.”  Such social predispositions against the Mexican American population would eventually play a role in popularizing ideas that cannabis causes madness and violence, ideas which notably had begun in Mexico.

While appearances of cannabis in newspapers largely focused on the plant’s medicinal purposes or use as an industrial textile before the 1900s, by the 1920s, newspaper articles tied the “marihuana” plant (note the adaptation of the Spanish naming of the plant from English’s “cannabis”) to both Mexico, and by extension, Mexicans, and violent behavior. For example, a 1905 Los Angeles Times article “Delirium or death: terrible effects produced by certain plants and weeds grown in Mexico,” pointed to the delirious effects of the plant and its ultimate result of death: “People who smoke marihuana finally lose their mind and never recover it, but their brains dry up and they die, most of times suddenly.” Future newspaper articles would point to usage of the drug by Mexicans even more explicitly --- a 1925 headline posted in the New York Times read:  "Mexican, Crazed by Marihuana, Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife." Americans feared the impact of this plant on their youngest as rumors spread that “Mexicans were distributing this ‘killer weed’ to unsuspecting American schoolchildren.” Clearly, the “Marihuana menace,” as the problem was dubbed, was largely grounded in fears personified by evidence of social deviance as presented in the inferior races.

Among these burgeoning fears, several cities and states began prohibiting use – California, Maine, Wyoming, and Indiana all banned the plant in 1913, and by 1931, 29 states had outlawed the drug. Prohibition ultimately reached the federal level in 1937. During congressional hearings against the plant, the U.S. Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger’s included a letter he got from the city editor of the Alamosa Daily Courier in Colorado in his testimony:

“I wish I could show you what a small marihuana cigaret [sic] can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking [Mexican] residents. That’s why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of who [sic] are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions.”

The testimony of Anslinger and others, ultimately led to the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, effectively criminalizing marijuana at the national level by inflicting a cost prohibitive excise tax on the few authorized uses of the plant (medicinal and industrial uses). Clearly, many of the loudest arguments against the plant capitalized on racial fears against the Mexican population. This racially charged history is an important precursor to the disparate impact of the War on Drugs popularized by President Nixon in the 1970s and by subsequent presidents.

Potential Solutions

Government regulation is one way to increase BIPOC participation in the cannabis industry.  Many states have introduced legislation to improve the minority share of the legal cannabis market.  For example, Illinois “has been praised as the ‘Gold Standard’ for [equitable] cannabis legislation.” Bipartisan legislation in Illinois helps minority license applicants by lowering their fees, removing property requirements, and expanding their access to loans. Other states have passed similar measures. For example, New Jersey now “mandates that 25 percent of all legal licenses be set aside for people of color,” and Pennsylvania requires license applicants to outline a racial equity plan.

Diversity-focused private investors can also help to promote equity in the industry. For example, in early 2021 Jay-Z launched a fund specifically dedicated to investing in minority-run cannabis companies. His fund aims to improve access to capital for minority entrepreneurs. In addition to the financial benefits, Jay-Z also hopes to offer job fairs and training workshops” for minority entrants to the cannabis space. This fund represents just one high-profile example of how the private sector can proactively promote equity within the cannabis industry.

Clear trends of racial and gender disparity exist within the emerging legal cannabis industry. These inequities in the market are not mere “growing pains” that will inevitably sort themselves out as the industry matures but instead are legacies of structural barriers and historical sins that must be confronted. Fortunately, both the public and private sector appear attuned to these challenges and are developing potential solutions to help improve access to the cannabis market. If successful, other industries may look to legal cannabis as an example of how to combat inequities in the economy.


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