Cannabis Industry and Systemic Racism

It’s Not Enough to Do Nothing: What the Cannabis Industry is Doing to Take Down Systemic Racism

November 18, 2020 0 Comment

With Great Reach Comes Great Responsibility

In the past several weeks, the United States has been thoroughly examined to expose its core of hundreds of years’ worth of systemic racism. Every industry imaginable has had its actions reconsidered: entertainment, politics, education, and yes, even the cannabis industry.

It is essential that the cannabis industry appropriately handle this problematic issue, mainly because of the large influence that it has on so many consumers; the cannabis industry as a whole is estimated to have an economic impact of over $75 billion by the end of this year.

With that power comes a lot of responsibility. That number should grow as more and more states legalize recreational use of marijuana; as of now, 11 states allow it, and several more are voting on legislation in November.

Current Issues Within the Cannabis Industry

Unfortunately, there are a lot of racial issues deeply rooted within the cannabis industry, the most shocking of those being the disparities between marijuana possession arrests and incarcerations between POC and white consumers.

Even more unfortunate is that legalization in different states has not done much to change these rates. The American Civil Liberties Union reported that even though the recreational use of cannabis has been legalized in eight different states between the years 2015 and 2018, there were more arrests in 2018 than in 2015.

Additionally, in some states, Black people had a six to 10 times greater chance of being arrested on a possession charge than a white person.

There are racial issues within the industry for producers, too. Often, this relates to the financial barriers of entry into the cannabis industry. Despite the rapid growth in popularity of the range of cannabis products that dispensaries offer, it is still incredibly expensive to start a business.

Not only that, but if you have been previously convicted of a felony for marijuana possession, you will more than likely not be granted a business license to operate a dispensary. Because of the high arrest rates for Black people, this is something that affects a potential entrepreneur of color more often than any other prospective entrepreneur.

One example of a Black entrepreneur that struggled to find a way into the cannabis industry is Dorian Morris, the founder of a CBD company named “Undefined Beauty.”

When she attempted to enter the industry, she did not have much success finding investors, even though she had more related experience than many other entrepreneurs might.

She said, “Black women get basically zero funding,” which also points out the underlying themes of sexism within the industry. Dorian continues, explaining that funding is often granted within tight-knit communities and networks from which minorities are excluded.

“They’ve gone to their school, they’ve worked for their tech companies. It’s kind of this self-propelling model where a lot of minorities aren’t tapped into that community.”

The Needed Change

So, how can those within the cannabis industry make the changes necessary to dismantle systemic racism? Right now, several states are working towards social equity programs that work to help minorities obtain business licenses, but those are not entirely effective and transparent.

Morris and Dasheeda Dawson, author of How to Succeed in the Cannabis Industry and a cannabis activist, both agree that even this thinking needs to be reevaluated. One tangible option to ensure that more POC can legally afford cannabis products would be to simply lower the prices and keep the quality.

Another step towards a solution is for companies to diversify every aspect of their supply chain: processors, distributors, farmers, and so on. Morris wants to see companies asking, “Are you giving opportunities and jobs to those that have been impacted by the war on drugs?” You can find more about the war on drugs here.

In addition, Morris wants to see the licensing process for those that have a criminal record related to marijuana possession become more realistic because this is one of the most challenging barriers of entry for POC.

The responsibility for change is not entirely on white corporations, though; Black people are encouraged to make strides to be a part of the law-making process that will help them enter the industry.

Reconsidering the Uses of Cannabis

Dr. Rachel Knox is an endocannabinologist, specializing in cannabinoids that affect the body, namely THC and CBD. She thinks that cannabis and its use are seen as more of a luxury than they should be; it should be considered for its medicinal benefits as well.

Dr. Knox is quoted, “Wellness, the whole concept of wellness, is a white construct. People of color, by and large, do not have the luxury to pursue wellness.” She and her sister, Dr. Jessica Knox, think that more education should be required of medical professionals regarding cannabis’ medicinal uses, or the endocannabinoid system.

According to Dr. Rachel Knox, medical professionals are oftentimes skeptical of the medicinal properties that cannabis possesses, and this can be attributed to racism embedded in generations of thinking.

This education will not only allow for thousands to be treated but will ensure that more POC are comfortable using cannabis medicinally. “People of color don’t want to go to jail.

If their brother, their sister, their mom, or dad, or cousin, or friend was arrested for simple possession or public consumption, they’re not going to want to use it. Even in the legal market, even as medicine.”

Using cannabis for its medicinal uses has been proven to treat a wide variety of ailments, among those being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, anxiety, sleep disorders, and epilepsy.

Unfortunately, if marijuana continues to be considered a Schedule 1 substance, medical community members will not fully trust it for its medicinal use.

What You Can Do

Even though a lot of significant changes need to be made within the cannabis industry, you can contribute as a small dispensary owner or even consumer by diversifying your supply chain, as mentioned earlier, or supporting Black-owned businesses.

Think carefully about what brands you back because you never know how they treat their minority employees.


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