Racism & Discrimination in the Cannabis Industry

The cannabis industry has its shortcomings, but there are some signs of positivity when it concerns inclusion and diversity. Some cannabis businesses are more interested in working with a team in a way that has a direct impact on its diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). Yet still very few cannabis companies proactively diagnose areas of improvement in the workplace and make recommendations for improvements around DEIB.

Photo credit: Cornelio Greer

ECO Cannabis unapologetically shifted its focus to DEIB from its beginnings. Rewind to the 1980s – racism and discrimination were two big components that manifested the War on Drugs that disproportionately impacted Black, brown, indigenous [communities] and people of color (BBIPOC) across the nation. Fast forward to today – you’ll see that the BBIPOC communities seeking to launch cannabis businesses are in a disadvantaged position to do so. The cannabis industry, and non-BBIPOC business leaders in particular, are in a unique position to contribute to the success of their BBIPOC counterparts who are eager to launch their own cannabis businesses.

Companies around the nation are making public statements about Black Lives Matter, but only some are taking DEIB initiatives to another level to ensure that it makes a real systemic change within its own operations. Since it opened, ECO maintains that 50% of its employees are formerly incarcerated individuals who were directly impacted by the War on Drugs. In many cases, ECO Cannabis was the only option for employment available to them. This is an example of a very simple thing that other cannabis businesses can do to adequately address racism and discrimination in the cannabis space. But it doesn’t stop there.

Photo credit: Cornelio Greer

The industry has a lot of room to improve in terms of raising awareness around and advancing social justice. Not all cannabis business leaders can say they feel comfortable discussing this topic without any repercussions for coming forward. This is in part due to the fact that consumers have demonstrated that they intend to hold brands accountable to their actions that proceed the black square we’ve seen so many companies post on social media in the summer of 2020. From the way cannabis business marketing demonstrates representation in its photos to the messaging it crafts around the history of its industry, and down to the way it uses language on its website about where its physical address is located (“in Oakland” versus “on land originally occupied by the Ohlone indigenous people, now known as Oakland”), it’s evident to consumers whether a brand values DEIB.

There are and have been so many changes around legislation, permits, and obstacles that cannabis businesses are legally obliged to keep up with that many can’t or haven’t made it a priority to generate the same momentum when it comes to making real systemic change in response to the harm done by the War on Drugs. For these and many other reasons, it’s clear that communities of color are scarce in nearly every aspect of the industry, from cultivation to consulting. Those BBIPOC-owned cannabis businesses that are in the space (and that number is only rising) are making social equity a part of their business plans, according to Marijuana Business Daily.

Photo credit: Cornelio Greer

It’s never been more apparent that it’s in our power to be the change we want to see in the world. And what better place to start than in the workplace and in the cannabis industry. ECO is stepping up to the plate to stand in solidarity with oppressed and marginalized groups and elevating their voices as we kick off our promotion and celebration of DEIB in every aspect of our lives and business.

Is there more that you’d like to unpack about this topic as it relates to the cannabis industry? Send an email to [email protected] to send an inquiry to Ivy Summer.


About the Author:

“Ivy Summer is an independent consultant and collaborator with ECO Cannabis with 5 years of experience working in the cannabis industry both as a consultant and wedding planner. She introduced the annual Cannabis Wedding Expo to California in 2016 and launched America’s first cannabis art museum tours and cannabis yacht tours from 2016 through 2018.

From your workforce, content, or your customer base to your daily interactions – if you aren’t sure how to start incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into various aspects of your life, and you want to commit to making an intergenerational impact in business and beyond, Ivy is your go-to. “Let’s make a diversity committee,” is one of the most common phrases she hears from her prospective clients. She’ll take you deeper. She helps solopreneurs and small-to-medium sized organizations develop ownership over real systemic change within their community and champion diversity and inclusion initiatives they never thought possible. Ivy specializes in identifying areas of business that hinder an organization’s potential for diversity and recommending how to establish best practices in a sustainable way.”

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