Published in The Day

By John Penney
Day Staff Writer

New London ― The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut on Tuesday was awarded a $1 million grant that it will distribute to non-profit organizations which operate in areas where the impact of failed drug policies are most apparent.

The foundation, which serves 42 municipalities in New London, Windham and Tolland counties, was one of six agencies ― and the only community foundation ― to receive a Community Reinvestment Pilot Program grant from the Connecticut Social Equity Council.

The foundation’s share of the funding package, derived from taxes on adult-use cannabis sales in the state, will be dispersed to approved non-profits in New London, Norwich and Windham, said its president and CEO Maryam Elahi.

She said the funding will be used to develop, expand and support programming designed to aid local communities disproportionately affected by so-called “war on drugs.”

“We’re really, really excited to begin asking our community partners to put in applications,” Elahi said. “This is our mission, our goal, to have this opportunity. And using this money, from adult cannabis sales, is a brilliant way to make an impact.”

Adult cannabis use was approved in Connecticut in June 2021. Sale of the product by licensed retailers began in January 2023. Sales of adult-use cannabis for the month of May alone totaled nearly $11.5 million, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection.

“We are excited to give back to communities affected for so long by the failed war on drugs,” Social Equity Council Executive Director Ginne-Rae Clay said in a press release.

Elahi said the three Eastern Connecticut communities targeted for the foundation’s aid were chosen based on criteria laid out by the equity council: urban centers with a significant population of young residents, formerly incarcerated individuals, and their families.

The foundation is expected to seek proposals in August and September for groups interested in receiving a portion of the grant money. Funding will be focused on youth education, recreation and arts programming, and mental health and physical wellness issues.

“Luckily, we already consult with a lot of partners and know the various non-profits, municipal and human services people in those communities, so this is all going to happen very soon,” Elahi said. “We’re not going to sit on this money.”

She said the planned funding distribution fits into the philanthropic group’s larger goal of addressing the root causes of poverty and inequity ― such as the lack of housing and food insecurity ― through local and state advocacy efforts.

“Providing this money fits right into that context,” Elahi said.

The other social equity grant recipients were: The Hispanic Federation; Neighborhood Housing Services of Waterbury; The Prosperity Foundation; United Way of Coastal Fairfield County; and United Way of Western CT.