With the legalization of medical marijuana in 2014 and adult-use marijuana last year, people are jumping at the opportunity to enter the new market.
As licenses and regulations roll out from the Office of Cannabis Management, an NYC resident has created an organization dedicated to connecting the marijuana industry with his community.
Grizzly Bocourt is the founder and executive director of CannaWare, an organization based in the city helping underserved individuals get access to information and resources about New York’s legal cannabis space.
As an Afro-Latino, Bocourt has had negative encounters with police for possessing marijuana, and he is using CannaWare to prevent the same from happening to others.
NY Cannabis Insider spoke with Bocourt on how CannaWare helps community members become knowledgeable and involved in the evolving venture.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NYCI: What is CannaWare?
Bocourt: CannaWare is an organization where we bridge the gap between industry and community. As we know, a lot of communities have been affected by the War on Cannabis and cannabis prohibition, and so there has been a lot of stigma surrounding the cannabis plant. On the flip side, there is a thriving industry that a lot of our community members are not aware of.
Our job at CannaWare is to bridge the gap by educating our community on the different benefits of cannabis. A lot of people just think of cannabis for consumption, like smoking, but there are a lot of different benefits, like medical and hemp benefits. We also educate and advocate for the community on the different opportunities in the industry as well, whether someone wants to be a patient or an entrepreneur in cannabis. Whatever is happening in the industry, we do our best to connect people to it.
It’s more than networking, as we curate events as well. A lot of the things we do are hands-on at our events and workshops. We also participate in campaigns that advocate for cannabis justice, so it’s a mixture of efforts.
What are some ways that CannaWare connects industry and community?
One of our event series is “CannaTalk,” where we talk about different topics that are important to the community, like post-traumatic stress disorder on and off the battlefield. A lot of us use cannabis to cope with different things. In the communities that people grew up in, there was a lot of trauma presented in many different ways, so a lot of us consume cannabis to cope.
Along with medical benefits, we also talk about knowing your rights when dealing with law enforcement and cannabis. Even though cannabis has been legalized for adult-use and is more free, it’s still a long way down. A lot of people that have been affected by the law when it comes to cannabis still don’t know their rights. We’ve broken down the MRTA and also helped educate people on how to transition from the legacy to the legal market.
Our new “Take Action Workshop” is to engage the community with different ways to participate in the industry. There are different stations like a criminal justice station for people who are looking to clear their record from cannabis convictions. There is also a career station for anyone interested in a career with cannabis, where people can connect with specialists for information on how to get started, and a business station for people interested in applying for a license, where they can speak with legal experts for assistance. And there are also wrap-around resources available, whether that be financial aid, housing, food assistance and things like that.
We also have a “CannaMarket” event series, which is a pop-up legal event series that we do to educate people about different businesses that are involved in the industry. A lot of times when people think of the cannabis industry, all they think of are strains, flowers and dispensaries. So we do our best to educate people on other businesses that are thriving in cannabis, and we connect consumers with business owners.
Does CannaWare offer any assistance for individuals looking to apply for one of the state cannabis licenses?
We’re actually in the process of finalizing our cannabis business program, which aids individuals looking to finalize their business structure and even set up a business. There are a lot of businesses that may or may not require licenses, so we set up a program that helps them from A to Z to transform an idea to an actual business.
What is the biggest change you have noticed in CannaWare’s operations and discussions since adult-use cannabis was legalized last year?
A lot of our discussions before legalization were about the different aspects of cannabis that communities were probably unaware about. Since the MRTA passed, we have been trying to educate and prepare people about the industry.
In our CannaTalk series, we talked about the new bill and broke it down to what it means now. After legalization, we helped people get educated on getting in the industry, but before, we focused on the different parts of the plant. Now, we’re doing a combination of both.
Is CannaWare working with other organizations or is it strictly independent?
We work with a lot of New York organizations, around the city and the state. For example, the Bronx Cannabis Hub was started with the Bronx Defenders and some other partners we work with. I am also the founder of New York Cannabis United, which is a mixture of cannabis leaders, trade associations, and advocates who were a part of getting the legalization bill passed and who are continuing to make sure we have fair and equitable access to the plant and the industry.
Our motto is “team work makes a dream work,” so we’re always looking to collaborate with other individuals who accomplish the goal of educating communities and providing an industry for them.
Who is included in the underserved communities that CannaWare offers their services to?
These communities have been drastically impacted by the War on Drugs, cannabis prohibition and other lack of resources, and as a result, there has not been much economic or social development in those areas. Those areas are often overlooked when it comes to funding and resources that can help better themselves.
These areas, a lot of times, are communities of color. Specific areas, the largest, is the Bronx, along with areas of Brooklyn and Queens, like the southside. There are a lot of areas throughout New York that are currently underserved.
What is the most common offense done to these communities that CannaWare is trying to change?
The number one offense is something that was resolved in the bill, but its impact still hasn’t been felt, is possession and consumption. That was a major thing that was affecting our communities. I was a victim myself, where I was arrested and beaten by police officers just for having a joint on me. That’s something that many have faced.
A lot of people in the community have been jeopardized, like their jobs, housing, health, and child welfare as a result of these offenses. Now that the bill has passed, we have been able to change some of the circumstances. Moving forward, however, many who have been affected in the past still have some effects in their lives that we’re trying to help those consequences that have come out of prohibition.