Published in The Norwich Bulletin

By Matt Grahn

Connecticut’s cannabis legalization came with opportunity for communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs to get funding for community efforts. Those funds are starting to come in.

On Tuesday, the CT Cannabis Social Equity Council and the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut formally gave out $1 million in grants to causes based in Norwich, New London, and Willimantic.

This is part of a pilot program from the Social Equity Council, where $6 million was divided evenly between six grant making entities from impacted communities, which will help the Social Equity Council further distribute funds from the cannabis industry, Social Equity Council Director Ginne-Rae Clay said.

“There’s never going to be enough money to restore our communities, so we’re going to do our best with what we have to make an impact on these communities,” Clay said.

Specifically, the funding will be put toward youth education, recreation, arts, and reentry and reintegration programs that support formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, according to a release from both organizations.

The Social Equity Council is also providing people who are or were from disproportionately impacted areas training to work or operate cannabis businesses, Clay said.

There will also be community conversations starting in January, where the Social Equity Council will get to hear how funds can be best used in communities in eastern Connecticut, Clay said.

“We’re gathering feedback and ideas from (distressed and impacted areas) residents and stakeholders to see where the most needs are,” she said.

To help get further ideas on how to spend the money, Clay is also encouraging people to complete the Social Equity Council’s community reinvestment survey, which will ask people about if people or families were affect, how they may have been effected, what zip codes people are from, and what you’d like to see funds used for in your community, Clay said.

This feedback and results of the first pilot program will help the Social Equity Council develop a larger plan to disperse a large amount of money: $34 million. This money came from conversion fees for medical dispensaries to change to adult use facilities. The Social Equity Council wants this money distributed as quickly as possible, Clay said.

“These funds do us and do the community no good by holding back,” she said.

Norwich recipients

One of the Norwich recipients is Castle Church, which received $50,000, will use its money for Next Day Mercy program, and for workshops that will pair students with mentoring opportunities, Pastor Adam Bowles said.

All the recipients of the grant were good choices, Bowles said.

“What strikes me about the list is that people are in it for the long run,” he said.

Another Norwich recipient is Sankofa Education and Leadership. Its $40,000 will be put toward an arts program for youth who may be affected due to living in an impacted area, or having family impacted by the War on Drugs. There will also be programs to address youth violence, as the gang violence problem in Norwich and New London is a direct result from the War on Drugs, Vice Chair Shiela Hayes said.

Hayes, soon to be a Norwich City Council member, also said the city should watch how these funds are distributed and consider it for its own efforts. The city will also have its own money coming directly from cannabis sales in the city, Hayes said.

City neighborhoods disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs

Downtown, Greeneville and Thamesville are the areas of the city deemed disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs, Hayes said.

“We know it, and we lived it in the 70s, 80s, and beyond,” she said. “Many of those same areas are our distressed areas.”

Going forward, it's important to see communities lifted up, and see what training, skill-building, and youth opportunities are needed to keep things moving forward, Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut President and CEO Maryam Elahi.

“Hopefully we will be able to grow this and really make a difference in our community,” she said.

The full list of Tuesday’s recipients is below, as written in the Social Equity Council and Community Foundation’s announcement.

Alliance for Living- $75,000: Peer navigators to support New London participants and link them to resources.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of CT- $20,000: Support one-to-one youth mentoring in Willimantic/Windham.

Castle Church- $50,000: Use art, design and entrepreneurship to foster unity among young people in Norwich and inspire them to use their own gifts to create their future.

Community Level Up- $50,000: Mentoring and youth development for New London youth.

Connecticut Legal Services- $40,000: Outreach and direct legal services regarding housing, education, substance and/or employment benefits to residents of New London, Norwich and Willimantic/Windham.

Connecticut Pardon Team- $5,000: Assist seniors aged 55+ from New London, Norwich and Willimantic/Windham to apply for an absolute pardon.

Eastern Connecticut State University Center for Community Engagement- $65,000: Expand a mentoring and tutoring support program in Windham Public Schools.

Hispanic Alliance of Southeastern Connecticut- $30,000: Theater and filmmaking program for middle and high school students from New London and Norwich.

Madonna Place- $80,000: Expand Fatherhood Initiative to support fathers who have been incarcerated.

NAACP of Connecticut- $75,000: To connect justice-involved residents of New London, Norwich and Willimantic/Windham with quality jobs through the One Million Jobs Campaign.

New London Homeless Hospitality- $85,000: Provide flexible financial assistance to those recently released from prison.

New London Youth Affairs- $50,000: Expand youth employment and training opportunities for teens age 14 and 15.

Norwich Youth and Family Services- $25,000: New rugby program for Norwich high school-aged boys.

Perception Programs- $100,000: Comprehensive case management and recovery housing.

Project Imo- $50,000: Development, leadership and employment skills for high-risk Willimantic/Windham youth.

Public Library of New London- $25,000: Youth enrichment programs for positive youth development.

Sankofa Education and Leadership- $40,000: Arts program with social and environmental justice focus for New London and Norwich youth.

S.T.E.P.S.- $35,000: Expansion of enrichment activities to provide programs on weekends for young women and their families.