Topical Cannabis: What the Industry Owes the Rest of Us
I originally planned to write my inaugural cannabis column on lab testing. With all the concerns over cannabis businesses clustering in certain neighborhoods and the public’s general hesitation toward the plant. However, given the events of Charlottesville this past weekend, I think these times call for something more pointed.
As a southern transplant, the terrorist attack in Virginia rings through my mind like a church bell or a battle cry. I woke up on Sunday primed to fight, asking, “What more can I do? Where have I failed?”
As the cannabis industry, our day jobs provide an easy - and, necessary - answer. We are obligated to include those communities and individuals most disenfranchised by Prohibition in the once-in-a-lifetime wealth-generating opportunity that is the cannabis industry.
For every legal dollar a cannabis company makes, there is a person - more than likely a person of color - doing a year behind bars for touching the same plant. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to see that legal cannabis is failing its communities of color. Walk into any dispensary and scan the budtenders. Are they mostly white? Hipster-esque? Feels weirdly like gentrification? (Editor’s note: not at my neighborhood dispensary in Berkeley.)
Don’t get me wrong - I love the strides the industry has made in the past couple years. The proliferation of distributors, retailers, labs and more has been incredible to see...even with Beauregard’s keebler self watching like a hawk. However, we have to do more, especially in light of this past weekend.
White supremacy is a powerful force. It can be overt, it can be subversive, it can be intentional or unintentional. What it can’t be after Virginia, is in the past, where the majority of Americans thought they left it. The cannabis industry must lead the way in combating white supremacy. We’re at the point on the industry’s growth curve that we can either choose to become yet another white-washed industry or we can choose to show everyone how it’s done.
If you are a white person who owns a cannabis business, then I’m talking to you. Do you have hiring policies that reflect our dire situation? And, I don’t mean “banning the box.” Do you have connections with diversity-minded nonprofits - such as the Hood Incubator or Minority Cannabis Business Association? Have you reached out to your local police/sheriff to create an employment pathway for those released for non-violent cannabis crimes? Have you chosen a lawyer who can help your future employees expunge their records?
If you read these suggestions and thought I was asking “too much,” then you’re part of the problem. This is not an initiative you pass off to your PR person to make sure you check the diversity narrative box. If you are making a dime off of cannabis, then you must give back.
Look where the tech industry is right now: every other day is a new story about racism, sexism or displacement. I want to avoid our own version of this. More than that, I want to build wealth for those this country has repeatedly left behind. Not just by cannabis or tech, but by all of us.
Whole communities have been devastated, neighborhoods destroyed, families torn apart—cannabis owes it to them to make amends for our past. If we don’t ensure equity, then we will be nothing but cannabis gentrifiers.