How to Create More Diversity in the Cannabis Industry

by Ngaio Bealum

There have been umpteen different articles written about how the cannabis industry needs more diversity, and a few more about how white people (white men in particular) are poised to get rich by selling cannabis, while people of color (the people that have been disproportionately affected by the extremely racist “war on drugs”) have been systematically shut out of the new cannabis industry. What can be done to fix this imbalance? I am glad you asked. And away we go…

Hire More Black and Brown People
It sounds simple, but it just doesn’t happen. Many employers don’t even notice that their workforce is somewhat monochromatic, and while you may not notice, people of color pay attention to these types of things. Having a diverse workforce means you will attract a diverse customer base. It is up to the people that do the hiring to make sure that their business reflects the diversity of cannabis culture. Steve DeAngelo, owner of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center (known for being the largest cannabis dispensary in the country) likes to say, “Our new industry should enthusiastically embrace diversity as a strength, not grudgingly accept it as a legal duty.” He is correct. Studies show that businesses (any businesses, not just canna-businesses) with a diverse employee base make more money and are more successful. Having a diverse workforce helps the bottom line, so even if “social justice” isn’t part of the business plan, if the only goal is to make money, it still makes sense to be diverse.

Reach Out
The idea that being in the cannabis industry is a good way to have a legitimate career is still a new concept. A lot of people with good business acumen and a skill set that aligns with what this new industry needs have yet to consider the cannabis industry as a viable option. With a new wave of legalization on the horizon (five states have adult-use cannabis legalization initiatives on the ballot this year); there has never been a better time for people to get involved. While the legal risks are still higher for minorities than they are for white people, the odds that the federal government will choose to prosecute legitimate cannabis businesses acting in accordance with state law are extremely low. There are some groups (the Minority Cannabis Business Association and the newly formed California Minority Alliance come to mind) that can put employers in touch with qualified prospects. Throw a job fair, go to under-served communities and let them know that the cannabis industry is hiring.

Ancillary Businesses Should Get Involved
The cannabis industry isn’t just growers and budtenders. Accountants, lawyers, engineers, event planners, architects, carpenters, food service professionals, marketers, IT professionals, graphic designers, copywriters and other businesses can all find a spot in the circle. Entrepreneurs of color should seek out cannabis businesses and look for ways to get involved. Alaska based activist Charlo Greene produces a series on cannabis diversity summits in different towns across the country (www.gogreene.org). These events can be a good way to network with folks that are already in the cannabis industry.

Lower the Barriers to Entry
Getting started in this new industry is expensive. New permits sell for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many folks don’t have the financial backing to get involved. Just going to a cannabis business conference can cost upwards of two or three thousand dollars once you include the costs of travel and accommodations. Conferences and Associations need to start offering scholarships and no cost/low cost options to those who may have the desire and the skills, but not the money to get started. Making sure that the people that have been most affected by the drug war at least get a chance to be a part of the new paradigm is vitally important.

Remember how this started
Cannabis legalization wasn’t always about millions of dollars of revenue and profits. Sure, money has always been a factor in the argument, but really, folks just wanted to stay out of jail and smoke weed free from the threat of arrest. California’s Proposition 215 (The 1996 medical marijuana initiative that got this whole joint rolling) was started because activists wanted to keep the police from arresting people living with HIV/AIDS and cancer. I hate to sound like an old hippie, but to ignore the compassion and equality ingrained into the history of cannabis legalization in favor of naked capitalism is to invite bad karma. Working to address the harms done to communities of color by cultivating business and hiring from within those communities invites good karma.

All of these suggestions are fairly simple to accomplish. It just takes a little willpower and a bit of mindfulness. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day actions of running a successful business, but it is vitally important to be aware of and to respect the vitality and diversity of the entire cannabis community.

 

Originally published in the Fall 2016 National Issue of The Hemp Connoisseur

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