“Allyship doesn’t mean a thing without real action and change,” say members of the cannabis collective Humble Bloom, “but how do we get there?” They provided the answer on July 22 via the Allyship + Weed Summit, a virtual conference in collaboration with wellness brand Miss Grass (“the Goop of cannabis”), which brought experts from all over the canna space together for conversations on creating sustainable allyship and equality in the industry. Featuring 22 prominent thought leaders including Karim Webb of social justice organization 4THMVMT, New York City public defender and candidate for Manhattan District Attorney Eliza Orlins (also recognizable for her stints on the TV shows Survivor and The Amazing Race), Christine Yi of the lifestyle brand Potli, artist and activist Laganja Estranja (a RuPaul’s Drag Race alum), and many more, the summit sought to provide genuine action-oriented pathways for progress.
Among the dialogues the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked anew, the issue of allyship looms the largest. What are the best strategies to help us commune as humans, and for those who are not BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) to empower those from marginalized groups to succeed? Donations can be one place to start: 100 percent of proceeds from the Allyship + Weed Summit went to the Movement for Black Lives, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making policy changes for Black power, freedom, and justice. Education can be yet another – Humble Bloom allowed conference attendees the opportunity to contribute to an Equity Fund that paid for 200 tickets so that underserved community members could also participate in the summit.
Still another strategy, most effectively used in the summit, is the act of initiating a conversation and sharing experiences directly. Many would say taking accountability for one’s own actions is key to this, and so one of the event’s standout panels focused on the question of privilege and acknowledgment. “Accountability with Cannaclusive” showcased three leading cannabis advocates who have made strides in creating equitable spaces for BIPOC – Maggie Connors, founder and CEO of cannabis brand Besito; Kelly Perez, founder and CEO of KindColorado, a business strategies and Corporate Social Responsibility firm focused on the cannabis industry; and Steven Phan, founder of Come Back Daily, the pioneering New York-based CBD retailer. Mary Pryor, co-founder of Cannaclusive, moderated with insightful observations about the industry and the state of race relations nationwide. (Cannaclusive, a multifaceted collective providing resources for minority-owned cannabis businesses, dedicates itself to increased representation, justice, and social equity for BIPOC.)“Think about privilege, how and what it means to define ourselves,” Pryor began. “Focus on solidarity.”
In response to the question of how the entrepreneurs were navigating this moment in history, Perez showed gratitude: “Feeling everything like so many people, privileged to be in this space, encouraged because for a long time we’ve fought for forward-thinking policies, community movement, and the best business practices. We have been working in this sector for six years to rally companies for social justice. I feel very lucky that I get to be a part of this.”
“Luckily, we got to work together early on, where I learned so much,” Phan answered. Come Back Daily and Cannaclusive have partnered on educational events often, and in 2019 the store was widely recognized for spotlighting products from Black-owned brands. He added that the East and West Coast have approached issues of race differently. “I’m originally from California, having been a cannabis activist for about six years; I see how much louder people are in New York about social equity… We can acknowledge what is going on and we have to continue having hard conversations about the deeper issues.”
Connors divulged that Besito, which specializes in THC vapes, realized that a total company review was in order to appraise the standards of equity. “We have taken an internal look throughout the various aspects of our company,” she stated. “Changed the tone of marketing, double-checked that we are living up to our commitments along the supply chain, and I was inspired to go beyond, to really see what we can do. We’re working on how we are accountable while it’s relatively easy in our industry and there is still time to change.
“What signified to you that you had to step it up?” Pryor asked.
“We realized we were presented with the opportunity and had been waiting to create this impact fund through Cannabis Doing Good and Sensible Colorado,” Connors responded. “Rather than our usual main focuses – environmental sustainability, community impact, race and justice, we will be solely focusing on racial justice for [these] 12 months absolutely, potentially longer. We need to be backing BIPOC in the industry through licensing and equity.”
Besito launched a partnership with Equity First Alliance, a nonprofit working toward repairing the harms caused by the War on Drugs, in September 2019. Their campaign A Record Shouldn’t Last a Lifetime served as a call to action advocating for widespread implementation of automated expungement and expanded eligibility for expungement. In June, Besito joined forces with the nonprofits Cannabis Doing Good (of which Kelly Perez is a co-founder) and Sensible Colorado to create the Cannabis Impact Fund, which asks cannabis companies to contributed 1 percent of their revenue or shares to Corporate Social Responsibility efforts.
For her part, Perez commented, “There’s folks moving forward and I think we need to acknowledge that. That’s an entry point for change.”
But Connors clarified that we should not be distracted from the true issues at hand. “It’s not a time to celebrate white-led brands that have finally gotten it together,” she said. “As far as the coalition, it’s companies of all sizes; the focus is on financial, hiring, employee culture and amplification. In regards to accountability, there are monthly meetings and transparency. You can sniff out authenticity and we will continue to hold each other accountable.”
Pryor ended the panel with an exhortation to the audience to check out Cannaclusive’s accountability list which is updated weekly with details on companies and organizations making the efforts. “How do we measure accountability?” she queried. “Which brands are supporting real work and equity in our industry? [The list lets you] see which people are holding true to their commitments, showing those who are already doing the work.”
Right now, it’s evident that many thought leaders in the cannabis space are ready to give their all for equality and justice. The only way forward is together – and it starts with an honest conversation, just like those who chose to speak up at this landmark summit.
As we all become more familiar with cannabis and what it takes to thrive in this industry, it is greatly appreciated to see advocates that are knowledgeable, outspoken original thinkers. These leaders are from a variety of backgrounds which provide for a well-rounded discussion about allyship in our industry and what it truly means to take action.
Thank you to Miss Grass and Humble Bloom for amplifying the voices of those who are actively working towards change, while supporting our industry by providing access to essential resources, information, individuals, organizations and ways to implement positive changes in our environments regarding cannabis. As well as giving thanks to the panel members and moderators for their thoughtful questions, their experience in their respective fields, the passion, and dedication that they continue to embody in their work.
Stay tuned for more updates on the Allyship + Weed Summit! To learn more about Miss Grass, visit missgrass.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For information about Humble Bloom, visit humblebloom.co or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can see more on Cannaclusive’s approach to accountability at cannaclusive.com (accountability list here) or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Learn more about the Movement for Black Lives at m4bl.org, or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.