City of Grand Rapids to create nonprofit to foster social equity in cannabis industry

Communities of color have long been disproportionately and negatively impacted by the policing of cannabis. With cannabis legalization in Grand Rapids, the City Commission has approved the creation of a nonprofit to help boost the social equity outcomes for communities that have been historically impacted. 

“The nonprofit has an overall mission to really heal some of the harm that was caused by the war on drugs and the disparate enforcement and sentencing policies of that federal effort,” says Stacy Stout, the city’s director of equity and engagement. 

Stout is part of the Cannabis Justice Work Group (CJWG), an interdepartmental group of members across five city offices, that was formed in 2020 to advance social equity outcomes in the communities impacted most by the policing of cannabis. Many of the initiatives of the group would be unable to be carried out directly by the city, so the Department of Law suggested the creation of a nonprofit, which Stout says will have the flexibility to advance its mission and meet the needs of Grand Rapids.

The nonprofit will support several efforts such as business incubation, entrepreneurial training, provision of grants and loans, job and wealth strategy training, as well as expungement assistance. 

“This war on drugs really [has] a cascading domino impact in a lot of different areas of one’s life,” says Stout. For example, she says that those with a cannabis conviction may not be able to access financial aid or various other resources. 

Some of the work the nonprofit will do will be in partnership with others that are doing this [type of work] in the community right now, enhancing or scaling up their impact,” says Stout. “So, we really think of it not only as an innovative approach as far as the work that they’ll do directly, but also as a multiplier effect on those that are doing great work in the community already.”

The CJWG is recommending an 11-member board that represents a mix of backgrounds, sectors and viewpoints to foster the best impact. “A variety of sectors should be represented such as, but not limited to, business entrepreneurship, finance, community health, resident-based organizations and perhaps those working on criminal justice and police reform,” said Stout at a City Commission Committee of the Whole meeting earlier this month. “This will help capture those different perspectives we seek.” An outreach strategy is also proposed to promote the board opportunity and its accessibility.

There are several steps that must be taken to create the nonprofit, such as its naming, drafting articles of incorporation, applying for recognition as a 501(c)(3) with the IRS and appointing directors and officers — all of which the City hopes to complete within the next 18 months.

Stout adds, “this is one strategy to heal the harm, but it doesn’t have to be, nor is it, the only strategy. I encourage and invite businesses, organizations [and] people to really reflect on what they too can do to foster healing, inclusion and equitable outcomes here in Grand Rapids.”