Activists want to kill bills favoring corporate cannabis. Legalize Equitably, Expunge All Records.
by J. Chelsea Long, Fiona Mac, & Mairead McElroy
Hartford– A rally held on April 20th had activists fired up (in more ways than one) in favor of a bill introduced by General Assembly member Robyn Porter. House Bill 6377: An Act Concerning Labor Peace Agreements and a Modern And Equitable Cannabis Workforce is a bill which would allow Connecticut residents the ability not only to smoke cannabis recreationally, but also to grow the plant in their own homes. The event originated at the State Legislative Office Building on Capitol Avenue, and later progressed to the Capitol Building.
The rally focused on supporting progressive parts of HB 6377, such as allowing Connecticut residents to grow their own cannabis for recreational use, more equitable policies for opening dispensaries in Connecticut, and expunging records and releasing prisoners who were charged with the possession or sale of marijuana.
Some of these criticisms have made their way to Governor Ned Lamont, shown by a few tweaks to his opposing bill (Senate Bill 888: An Act Responsibly And Equitably Regulating Adult-Use Cannabis), like saving 40% of business licenses for “social equity applicants”. Still, Lamont’s bill does not address other concerns such as the steep price to start a dispensary that many social equity candidates do not readily have access to.
Lamont also agreed to expunge the records of people who possessed or sold four ounces or less of weed and would only allow police to fine people for growing or possessing large quantities of weed. While this does not fully address the root problem of drug use being criminalized and weaponized against marginalized communities, it does show that the pressure and enthusiasm created by these organizations and everyday citizens is being heard and is working to make Connecticut’s cannabis legislation better for the working class.
General Assembly member Ann Hughes, also a member of the Connecticut Progressive Caucus, spoke at the event. It was stressed that HB 6377 be passed as-is, and that any compromise could only hurt the Black community (the main victims of the drug war), saying in her speech that “we can’t keep a little racism”.
Wildalez Brumedez, a Hartford city councilwoman, echoed similar thoughts. “If we don’t do it right, we don’t have an opportunity to do it later. […] Anything less is a slap in the face to our people”.
After speeches concluded, one individual started handing out pre-rolled blunts. The mood relaxed and members of the media could be spotted lighting up, including Daniel Kent Newmyer, Republican strategist and host of the CT Strategist Report.
“I had a run in with the cops, I got arrested for pot”, Newmyer later said in a phone interview, referring to an event that happened many years prior.
During the rally Newmyer even took a picture with Rep. Hughes. “I wasn’t afraid to light that up. There’s politics and culture. The cops are not going to beat and lock people up in chains [at a public event], that’s where the culture is at. If I was walking down the street by myself then… [laughs]”.
Though police had a clear line of sight of the festivities, none approached the rally goers. One attendee suggested that doing so would be “bad publicity”. Once everyone’s mood had elevated, Michael Oretade, president of Black Lives Matter 860, led the chanting rally-goers to the State Capitol.
Jason Ortiz, an organizer for the rally, started flying a drone to film the march to the capital. When the marchers arrived, chants continued. When a cop car drove by, some even chanted anti-police slogans such as “f*ck 12”. The most tension that occurred at this point in the day was when one individual started to describe wanting to burn down the State Capitol, something that all the organizers were quick to denounce.
After the rally, the same organizers planned a 4/20 Cookout at Heavens Skatepark in Hartford and invited Black-owned businesses to sell their goods. Food vendors, edible bakers, and herb specialists set up tables and tents for pedestrians to walk through with ease and purchase products. Black Lives Matter 860 invited local musicians and artists to perform, including Daz, Grown English, DJ Ephraim, Lu Dizzy, JVY, Tres all, Say it ain’t So, and King who brought a bright atmosphere to match the lovely spring weather. The event was pleasant and welcoming, drawing in passersby who were intrigued by the joyful faces of lively participants and wonderful smelling food. As this event was going on, the Derek Chauvin Trial verdict came out, and as previously promised on the Black Lives Matter 860 Instagram, leaders immediately made a protest following the cookout sending people back to the Capitol Building. This was to reassert that no matter what the verdict of the trial was, there was not and there still is not true justice in George Floyd’s or any other victims of police brutality until the police state is dismantled and no longer capable of causing these atrocities in the first place.