The cannabis industry is unequal in many ways. Racially targeted arrests for marijuana possession still occur in every
state and minorities are
sparsely represented among senior leadership roles. High licensing fees and reduced access to capital have only worsened
the opportunity gap for marginalized communities.
Companies that continue to benefit from legalization can, and in our view should, do something about the diversity and inclusion (D&I) problem in cannabis. Below are takeaways from a
Womxn, Wellness and Cannabis conference panel that can help cannabis businesses—and those who work within them—enact change.
Cannabis businesses can consult their workforce and the communities they serve to identify areas of improvement. Surveys, for example, are one way to
formally assess a company’s D&I efforts and hold the organization accountable to addressing any shortcomings.
“Assessment is the key to understanding any issue,” said Jessica Jackson, co-founder of cannabis sustainability and wellness-focused design firm LOUD.social. “It tells you where you are, where you need to be, and how you can get there.”
Proactive research helped LOUD.social design its events and social campaigns with inclusion in mind.
“When planning our event, The Midpoint, we made action plans related to mobility needs and set up payment plans to ensure that lower income families could participate,” said Jackson. “We did this by doing our own research. We made
the consideration of this community on our own.”
Consultation is especially important for cannabis companies lacking representation from marginalized communities in their leadership teams.
"Push for representation at the consultation level."
“It would be great if we could have representation at all levels right away, but it may not be feasible at the start,” said Ivy Zmuda, vice president of regulatory
affairs at Tantalus Labs. “Push for representation at the consultation level. Even if you're not there when decisions are being made, [management] should be consulting with
you on the overall impact of these decisions and that's when you can make your voice heard. From there, ask to be in the room when decisions are being made.”
Company policies and procedures can formalize a company’s commitment to D&I. Without clear accountability mechanisms, however, enforcement can be challenging for cannabis industry professionals.
"We need to acknowledge that dealing with harassment goes beyond the workplace."
“While policies and programs and procedures aren't glamorous, it's the foundation by which diversity and inclusion is built on,” said Erin Gratton, an independent
HR practitioner specializing in workplace education. “Workers don't have a lot of spaces to turn to. How we see that manifesting in cannabis is that claims of harassment have gone uninvestigated. As a result, those reports are not necessarily
going to corporations anymore because there is a loss of faith.”
Unconscious bias in hiring practices has, for example, deepened the leadership opportunity gap within cannabis. Hiring, retaining, and elevating talent from marginalized communities should be top of mind for employers.
“Privilege is an axis when it comes to 'picking the best person for the job',” said Zmuda. “I don't think there's a lack of talent from a marginalized perspective.” Zmuda insists that ongoing staff training is a must for cannabis
companies striving to create truly inclusive environments. “We need to acknowledge that dealing with harassment goes beyond the workplace,” continued Zmuda. “Particularly for our industry, because we have many conferences and
people are active on social media, incidents will happen outside the workplace. We can still prepare our peers on how to offer adequate support.”
Additional support can come in the form of mentorship—connecting people in positions of power with individuals seeking an advocate. Peer-to-peer mentorship across all departments and seniority levels can be
crucial for retaining diverse talent and advancing women and minorities to leadership roles.
"Look for people who speak the language and who you can learn from."
Without a structured, company-sponsored mentorship program, though, the responsibility often falls on employees to seek out mentors themselves. In cannabis specifically, social media and events can be pivotal in facilitating mentorship connections
outside the workplace.
Nora Nathoo, co-founder of Louder Together and marketing specialist at Emerald Health Therapeutics, urged attendees to think about the qualities they want for themselves when they reach
out to a mentor.
“Look for people who speak the language and who you can learn from,” she added.
For her part, Jackson said she was very intentional about the types of mentors she wanted.
“I wanted queer women of colour. I followed hashtags [such as] #BlackInCannabis and people who were doing the type of work I want to do.”
“I was very intentional about the types of mentors I wanted,” continued Jackson.
At minimum, businesses can donate to existing cannabis-specific social equity initiatives such as Cage Free Cannabis, Marijuana Matters,
The Equity Organization, and the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty.
"If you have the opportunity to invest, do it."
Some organizations also have programs of their own. For example, the National Cannabis Industry Association launched its Social Equity Scholarship program,
which provides complimentary year-long membership, mentorship opportunities, and other benefits to eligible cannabis social equity applicants and licensees. Cannaclusive continues to update its
accountability database of statements and actions taken by brands to support diversity and inclusion efforts.
“If you have the opportunity to invest, do it,” adds Jackson. “Whether it be through charitable contributions, sponsorships, or mentorship and coaching, it helps my business grow but also helps me sustain myself.”
Companies benefitting from the legal cannabis sector are urged to help make the industry more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. Be it through stronger accountability mechanisms, reformed hiring practices, structured mentorship opportunities,
or ongoing initiatives that promote social equity, we think cannabis businesses should consider levelling the playing field within and beyond their organizations.
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