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The Cannabis Industry Is Still Very White and Male, But Change Is Possible

A unique chance to make an industry one of the most diverse in the world.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In addition to the much-discussed positive aspects of the cannabis business— stellar job growth, benefits to the community, health, and wellness—the industry also has a competitive advantage that many other industries don’t: Its newness.

Think about it. For the first time since tech companies started to grow at the end of the 20th century, this nascent industry allows investors and entrepreneurs to get in on the ground floor. This presents an opportunity to create a more diverse and inclusive business sector, with more women, Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ members, in positions of ownership and management.

Just as importantly, the cannabis industry can make efforts to involve those most impacted by the long War on Drugs.

But none of this will happen based on goodwill alone, Sumayyah Emeh-Edu, vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth Corp., told Marijuana Business Daily. These efforts must, instead, become embedded in the company.

“I think the objective is that we understand we have the responsibility that our employees mirror the communities we serve,” she said.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case in many states and cities. But both governments and the non-profit sector are seeking to change course on this important issue.

Related: The Cannabis Industry Has a Chance to Change the World


An organization that addresses diversity and inclusion

The non-profit organization National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance was created to aid in this effort, seeking to  “create an ethical and equitable cannabis industry to reduce barriers contributing to the lack of representation of those most impacted by the War on Drugs, including people of color and other marginalized community members.”

The organization offers community outreach and educational programs. They also offer online education courses in areas such as business development, soft skills and weed trimming. They lead efforts to get marijuana arrest records expunged in cities across the country.

Other efforts are springing up across the country, some involving governments. For example, in Denver a special committee of elected leaders have made their recommendations to the state on how to eliminate barriers that keep people of color from getting cannabis licenses. 

In Massachusetts, the Cannabis Control Commission is holding hearings on funding a state-managed loan or grant fund to promote social equity in the state’s cannabis industry.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Are Essential in the Cannabis Business


Ideas for change

Denver dispensary owner Wanda James, who is Black, told 5280 Magazine that she knows of only about 20 people of color with dispensary licenses in a state with 2,770 cannabis licenses issued.

She said that’s particularly frustrating since Black and brown people were arrested at much higher rates than white people during the War on Drugs. “If we paid a price on the prison side, we should be able to make it up on the business side,” she said.

Ideas on how to get that done vary. In a recent interview with the Journal-Record in Oklahoma City, where medical marijuana is legal and popular, Social Equity and Inclusion Consultant Michael Fields said that all cannabis businesses, no matter who owns them, should make cultural equality part of the business process.

“Every license holder should be responsible for doing something in the social equity arena, whether it’s education, whether it’s employment, whether it’s the wraparound services – that should be lockstep with your license,” Fields said. 

That’s one of many ideas on the table as the marijuana industry strives to become more diverse in its early years, rather than waiting until later when change can prove much harder to achieve.

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