By Jade Sancho-Duser and Cecilia Leigh Howard
The Cannabis Industry struggles with representation as people of color continue to be disproportionately excluded from the Cannabis space. The majority of Cannabis businesses are White-owned; many have been built upon oppression, having benefited from the struggles of the individuals most affected by the War on Drugs.
Calls for increased inclusion are often not adequately addressed by a large majority of white cannabusiness owners. Many of these businesses are guilty of doing the bare minimum, such as hiring BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) into labor-intensive worker positions and keeping them out of the boardroom.
In a time where Black Lives and Black excellence need to matter more than ever, it is apparent that voices for social equity continue to be unheard. How best can BIPOC be represented, felt, and be heard in the Cannabis space?
The answer may just be Cannaclusive, a multifaceted collective that provides resources for minority-owned cannabis businesses. They are home to Inclusivebase, a resource that allows consumers to locate a cornucopia of minority-owned cannabis businesses as well as host their own collection of stock photos that represent a fuller spectrum of BIPOC consumers.
We had the pleasure of speaking with the creative team behind Cannaclusive, co-founder Mary Pryor and social media director Kassia Graham. Both Mary and Kassia offered valuable insights into BIPOC experiences in cannabis as well as pointers for white allies. Their knowledge and passion regarding inclusivity as well as their commitment to social equity in the cannabis space were highly apparent.
MARY PRYOR: We have become more active, given the fact that we need to be a voice, the great thing about this year is that people have to assess how they’re making money, what are their business models, [and] how do they want to conduct themselves going forward.
It is a unique time where everyone is examining their own lack of diversity and inclusion.
It took a pandemic, a recession, social action and the publicized killings of melanated bodies through social media; that’s what it took for the world to take a look at itself, which has been needed for a long time.
KASSIA GRAHAM: This is a group effort, it has to be consumers, brands, social justice organizations that are all working in the space together have to be accountable.
MP: As a collective working on bringing people together, which is what we are, we have to be more honest in terms of responsibility and not every group that exists has been able to do the job that is needed for the people that want it the most. Hopefully, we can find support in this time. It’s clear there is a gap; a lot of my focus is on what the next step we need to be involved in is.
People aren’t staying really accountable to the things that they might say and do until there’s pressure. That’s unfortunate, but we need to keep this focus on the present.
We’re focusing on the fact that businesses and consumers are aware of these inequalities; we need to create environments without expecting outside entities to take care of us. The fact that the cannabis industry was left out of SBA [Small Business Administration] or PPP [Paycheck Protection] programs from the administration, it is feeling the effects of that. Consumers have power. When you look at [cannabis, it’s] an over-1-billion-dollar consumer-spending habit from Black folks from the year 2017… A lot of us do not look at our spending habits as making economic choices and showing economic power, we will be encouraging more people to do that given the choices that they can make by who they choose to shop from.
White people are being called to the table. Mostly white males that are leading everything in cannabis. We should all be aware of that being in existence; with that said, every industry has a really bad score card for respecting Black and brown voices. Cannabis is way more personal because it was built on the backs of Black and brown people; who were lied to in the 20s and 30s as a scapegoat for the textile war in creating words like “marijuana.”
It’s a matter of people being willing to face the music and make a change is all that we’re focused on. Even if we don’t get big businesses on board, it’s okay because they need our money more than we need them, so I’m not worried.
Here’s 3 things that stand out the most:
1. Admit that you were wrong, dismissive and ignorant of voices that were not of your own, due to white entitlement. Admit that you have blindspots.
2. Listen to decision makers who are from these cultures on how you can make better choices to be inclusive. That doesn’t mean going out and hiring someone not from these cultures. It means listening to, hiring and paying for people’s time to give you those insights to the framework of how you run, create, and share.
3. Activate, whether it’s through more inclusive hiring practices, on top of doing more social good, on top of making sure you have policies that make these work environments safe.
It’s not a matter of hiring a bunch of Black people. If you have a systemically, institutionally racist business structure, people are not going to want to stay with your company. If you’re going to have a Diversity and Inclusion manager, but it’s a white man, that’s not going to work.
KG: If cannabis is now considered an essential business, it is essential that people be released from jail for cannabis crimes immediately. It’s not just enough to be released, their records should be expunged. Some states do, some only seal their records. Then, making sure these people are integrated back into their environments safely; a halfway house is not the answer.
Right now these people, once released, are not able to rejoin the cannabis industry. If they are in these businesses, whether [they are] plant-touching or ancillary, there should be a program that should help them grow and to make that a reality for them.
We need more laws to protect the people that use the plant, just knowing that there are still people getting arrested in recreational states… It makes sense profit-wise for prisons, but going off of what is right and what should be done… It doesn’t make any sense [at all].