Honoring Black History In Cannabis Means Advocating For True Equity

Honoring Black History In Cannabis Means Advocating For True Equity

It’s Black History Month and cannabis brands are launching a wide range of content celebrating the contributions of Black and brown individuals and organizations in the cannabis industry and culture at large. However, amid this widespread celebration remains serious gaps in building an equitable cannabis industry that addresses the lingering damage caused by prohibition and the War on Drugs. 

Before you create and send your messaging around Black History Month (or any other awareness month, for that matter) it’s important to consider how you’re actually contributing to social equity year-round and effectively build equity throughout the industry in the months after February.

Celebrating Black history in the cannabis industry

In the cannabis industry, Black History Month is a time to celebrate the many contributions of Black people to cannabis culture, innovation, the legalization movement, and the industry that is now being built across the U.S. Cannabis history and Black history are, in many ways, inextricably linked, and as the cannabis industry now flourishes it’s important to keep that history top of mind.

“Black culture has long been a driver of cannabis culture, especially our music and language,” said Kassia Graham, director of community and strategy at CannaClusive. “Jazz, reggae, and hip hop have always played a part in cannabis as artists consume and exalt the plant in song and rhyme. While demonized by various governments, religious bodies, and politicians, those genres of Black music capture the zeitgeist of the 1920s to the present.” 

However, while the acknowledgment of Black contributions to cannabis culture and the industry is much-needed and welcome, the conversation is necessarily evolving. Today, it’s critical to ground the celebration of Black in more tangible efforts to build equity in the industry and eliminate the obstacles faced by Black and brown entrepreneurs, professionals, and businesses succeed industry-wide.

“This conversation is important because years ago we wouldn’t have been having it,” said Ru Johnson, owner of Roux Black, a Denver-based creative consulting firm focused on platforming individuals and brands with an emphasis on social impact in the cannabis and music industries. The movement for an equitable cannabis industry has evolved beyond simple acknowledgement into an expectation of action on the part of brands, she added. 

When celebrating Black History Month, it’s important for brands to be able to point to their actual social impact, Johnson said. But what’s the best way for your brand to make a meaningful impact? And what contributions is your organization making to building an equitable cannabis industry day in and day out?

“We have found that social impact is only most impactful when there are policies and systems in place that allow creatives and consumers and those who want to operate in the industry to actually thrive all the time, not just when it’s in observation of [an awareness month],” Johnson said.

Moving beyond buzzwords and supporting true equity

However you celebrate Black History Month, it’s important that your messaging is grounded in real, demonstrable work your organization is doing year-round to help improve opportunities for Black entrepreneurs and professionals in the cannabis industry. 

“‘Social equity’ is almost more of a buzzword now than ‘War on Drugs,’” Johnson said. “What we’re not looking at in the cannabis industry are the actual components that made the War on Drugs so destructive to communities of color. Creating a social equity space doesn’t combat those effects because we aren’t looking at the actual disease — we’re just trying to cure the symptoms.”

As one of the most targeted demographics by law enforcement under cannabis prohibition, Black people suffered disproportionately due to the War on Drugs. In fact, Black Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession as white Americans, despite virtually equal consumption rates. 

There also remain racial barriers to launching and growing a business in the cannabis industry. At the largest 14 cannabis companies, roughly 70% of executives are white men, while Black executives make up just 7% of leadership. Similarly, fewer than 2% of cannabis business owners or CEOs nationwide are Black.

As a result, social equity initiatives and corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts have become a major focus in the cannabis industry. Unfortunately, these efforts often leave a lot to be desired, however well-intentioned.

“Racial injustice, institutional racism as it relates to the carceral state … these are things that have long been in place and were exalted by the War on Drugs, “Johnson said. “I struggle sometimes when I hear agencies and brands say they exist to combat the detrimental effects of the War on Drugs when they’re not identifying these elements that make the War on Drugs still relevant.”

According to Graham, action is the missing component in many discussions around social equity in cannabis, and it’s time to begin moving the needle away from conversation and toward meaningful action that builds equity in the cannabis industry and beyond. 

“This work is not for the faint of heart. If you can get your feelings hurt so quickly by people seeking equity it’s important to sit with that, and ask yourself why it makes you feel as if there is not enough to share,” Graham said. “While cannabis equity is important I believe Black lawyers, inventors, scientists, chefs, CEOs, and other executives matter too. These people shouldn’t be seen as ‘diversity’ hires but rather the best candidate for the job regardless of race — they’re great at what they do and bring a melange of thought and experience to a team.”

How cannabis companies can support DE&I measures year-round

Unless you’re actively supporting Black businesses and leadership in the space, your Black History Month marketing campaign will ring hollow and self-serving, and your customers will know it. Taking the lead in terms of equity within your own organization and transparency into your DE&I programs for the sake of ethical accountability is a must.

According to Havas Media Group’s Meaningful Brands Report, 73% of consumers believe brands must act for the betterment of society and the planet. Additionally, 71% don’t believe most brands are sincere in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) messaging — and they’re tired of it. 

In other words, if you want to celebrate equity and DE&I, you need to put your money where your mouth is. Fortunately, the following steps can help create a strong foundation both for your brand and a tight-knit community of like minds that want to ensure an equitable future in cannabis and for our communities.

1. Consider representation in marketing

One simple but important way to normalize equity is to ensure Black and brown people are represented in all your marketing materials. That goes beyond simply including people of color in your marketing images, but actually elevating Black-owned brands in your content.

“You can make sure you’re utilizing your platform … to highlight and spotlight Black and brown businesses throughout the year,” Johnson said. “And make sure you’re listening to Black and brown customers.”

Representation goes beyond the realm of cannabis marketing content, too; it also matters how Black brands are supported by your business. Johnson gave the example of a retail environment and what products make it to the shelves, and how they are promoted.

“Determine if [your customers] are able to go in and find, for example, products from a woman-owned, Latino, LGBTQ+ business,” Johnson said. “How is the design set up in those retail locations actually benefiting platforming businesses of color? How easy is it to get on those shelves?”

Ensuring adequate representation in marketing and inventory is one of the first and most important steps in demonstrating your commitment to building equity in the cannabis industry.

2. Amplify Black voices and establish leadership pathways

To be the best advocate and ally you can be, you need to help support the people who are already advocating for themselves by amplifying their message and helping them tell the stories of their lived experiences. Connecting with individuals and Black-led organizations already doing the work and supporting them with the resources and tools they need is a great first step to getting involved in advocacy.

“We should amplify the voices of those who really have the experience and expertise to build survivable businesses in cannabis,” Johnson said. “And I believe one of the strongest ways to do that is by providing tools and resources to Black and brown and red and yellow communities that amplify the skills they already have.”

In this way, amplifying voices means more than just passing the mic, but also creating leadership opportunities for Black entrepreneurs, professionals, and organizations. This could include:

  • Rethinking your recruiting and hiring practices
  • Designing clear career pathways for employee advancement
  • Working with a coalition of Black-led organizations to advocate for equitable access to the industry
  • If you have a board, ensure it includes Black and brown members

Along the way, make sure you are soliciting feedback and implementing changes based on the input of your Black and brown employees and customers. 

“These businesses and companies can actually amplify the skillset of the people who work for them already and raise them up through the leadership pipeline,” Johnson said.

3. Build a community of like-minded businesses

Just like a Chamber of Commerce comes together to represent the interests of a businesses in a given area, so too should equity-minded cannabis businesses organize with one another to establish a network of organizations all striving for the same goal. By coming together and agreeing upon a framework of both internal DE&I practices and external social equity goals, businesses can more clearly work toward an equitable future in which the cannabis industry offers opportunities for Black and brown entrepreneurs and professionals.

“If we believe social equity can actually benefit these communities, then businesses need to come together and talk about that — then we can begin to have solutions,” Johnson said. “By listening to Black and Latino advocates, listening to Black and brown-owned businesses about the stresses they have in keeping businesses survivable … allows the greater industry to establish a standard of care for businesses across all sectors to thrive.”

4. Create awareness month campaigns based on real accomplishments

When you do all of the above year-round, you can base your Black History Month campaigns on the tangible contributions you’ve made to support Black business owners and cannabis pros, rather than simply creating hollow content as a nod to the awareness month. Use your Black History Month content to platform Black voices and celebrate another year of getting the work done, looking back on all you and your partners have accomplished together.

“If I were a [business] that wanted to prove my DE&I program was actually beneficial, I would lay out a retrospective on everything I’ve done to support Black businesses and amplify the work of those businesses,” Johnson said. “The best way to celebrate Black History Month is to celebrate what your business has actually done [to support Black entrepreneurs and professionals].”

Do more than just acknowledge Black history — help make it

During Black History Month, many brands’ social media feeds and blogs are replete with acknowledgements of the month and famous Black icons in cannabis — but that’s just the start. Now, it’s time to take the next step to engage in the work needed for true social equity reform.

“Cannabis companies can show up for Black people year-round by hiring us, paying us on par with white men, stocking our products, sourcing from us, amplifying our work regularly, and shining a light on the many ways we contribute to the industry,” Graham said. “It’s incredibly important to show up every step of the way, and to support cannabis equity internally — [through] hiring and company culture — and externally [by] supporting local, state, and national policy and legislation.”

If you’re looking to make an impact, consider joining the Floret Coalition, consulting InclusiveBase, Cannaclusive’s database of Black talent for hire in the cannabis industry, or supporting the many initiatives led by organizations like Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana or BIPOCANN. Johnson also recommended following groups like The Hood Incubator, the Oakland, Calif.-based Equity Trade Network, and people like Nina Parks, founder and CEO of cannabis equity brand Gift of Doja, to tap into additional opportunities to contribute to the movement for an equitable cannabis industry.

“We have more responsibility than just selling weed,” Johnson said. “We need to think about the tools people need, find the people who need it, and give it to them.”

As social equity and DE&I become buzzwords on everyones’ lips, rolling up your sleeves and doing the actual restorative work to both repair the damage done to predominantly Black communities by the War on Drugs and build a truly equitable cannabis industry is more important than ever.

11 Ways To Give Back This Holiday Season

11 Ways To Give Back This Holiday Season

Generosity is the heart of the holiday season. Whether you want to support families in need for the holidays or want to get involved with a group year-round, there are lots of organizations that could use your help. We’ve put together this list of some of our favorite causes, so you can find a cause near and dear to your heart to support now and in the new year.

11 charities spreading warmth now and all year round

If you want to help spread love and joy this holiday season, giving back is a great way to do it! These 11 organizations support our friends and neighbors everywhere, with many ways for you to show your support. 

1. Inside Out Youth Services

Although the holidays are often thought of as a time of love and togetherness, there are many LGBTQ+ youth that won’t be shown such kindness this season. Inside Out Youth Services, a Colorado Springs, CO non-profit, works year-round to support LGBTQ+ youth ages 13 to 24 through leadership, advocacy, community-building, education, and peer support. 

Inside Out Youth Services is currently gathering donations to support Club Q victims and their families. To help support Inside Out Youth Services this holiday season, you can volunteer or offer a financial donation. 

2. One Simple Wish

One Simple Wish is an organization based in Trenton, N.J. dedicated to supporting the 500,000 children who face abuse and traumatic experiences in the foster care system each year. The group shares the wishes of children nationwide in hopes that generous spirits everywhere will help make those wishes come true. In addition to making a child’s wish come true this holiday season, you can also support scholarship funds, volunteer at a Wish Party, or support the One Simple Wish with a financial donation.

3. 40 Tons Foundation

Although cannabis prohibition has come to an end in many states and many will even receive cannabis products as a gift this season, thousands remain incarcerated for non-violent cannabis charges while thousands more still struggle to re-enter society after their release. 

40 Tons is a Los Angeles-based social cannabis brand and foundation dedicated to supporting currently and previously incarcerated people convicted of cannabis charges. The brand sells cannabis products and apparel (that make great holiday gifts!) and directs resources to efforts in establishing restorative justice and education around the War on Drugs. Support 40 Tons this holiday season by shopping for their products, volunteering, or donating to the foundation. 

4. Operation Blessing

Giving during the holiday season doesn’t always have to be about gifts. Operation Blessing is a Virginia Beach, VA organization that delivers clean water, disaster relief, medical care, and food security to people in need around the world. Currently, Operation Blessing is supporting Ukrainian refugees, feeding families in Peru, providing healthcare services in India, and delivering clean water in Kenya, in addition to the rest of its ongoing international operations. To give beyond U.S. borders this year and spread the holiday spirit worldwide, consider volunteering or donating financially.

5. Robin Hood Foundation

While the holidays often evoke piles of gifts and bountiful feasts, the reality is many families don’t have the resources to bring these visions to life. The Robin Hood Foundation is a New York City organization dedicated to tackling poverty throughout the five boroughs. The foundation partners with more than 250 non-profit organizations to support New Yorkers by offering a range of services, including support food, housing, education, legal services, workforce development. Help Robin Hood Foundation in its mission to lift New Yorkers out of poverty this season by getting involved or donating.

6. The Tender Foundation

Based in Atlanta, The Tender Foundation helps low-income single mothers in the greater Atlanta area with financial assistance and other resources. According to the foundation, 38% of single mothers in Atlanta live below the poverty line. To ease the financial burden, The Tender Foundation aims to provide a safety net to these single moms, so they can better have their needs met while they focus on raising their children.

7. Worth Rises

Incarcerated people don’t have the luxury of going home for the holidays. It’s a proposition even more disheartening when people are still in prison for cannabis while the legal industry grows. Worth Rises is a New York City organization dedicated to dismantling the prison industry through education, fact-finding, and lobbying elected officials for prison system reform. Its campaigns include making communication between incarcerated people and their families free, ending prison profiteering by corporations and investment funds, and the adoption of an “Abolition Amendment” to end involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime.

8. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Some households aren’t safe places where holiday cheer is a given. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence supports victims of domestic violence year-round by collaborating with other organizations to promote legislation and policies that protect victims and survivors of domestic violence, as well as creating educational opportunities to change the narrative surrounding domestic violence. Recently, the organization joined with the National Domestic Violence Hotline to launch Project Opal, a 24/7 hotline that connects victims of domestic violence with local, state, and national resources that can provide help.

9. Project Linus

Project Linus is a Belton, MO organization that aims to spread warmth by providing a sense of security and comfort to children who are seriously ill, have experienced traumatic events, or who are otherwise in need. Their core service provides handmade blankets created by a dedicated team of more than 80,000 volunteers nationwide. To help support Project Linus this holiday season, get involved with a local chapter or make a donation of your own blankets in good condition or materials volunteers can use to create blankets.

10. Pay Away

The holiday season is a time for cheer and gift giving, but for some families, the cost of making the season bright can be too much to bear. Pay Away (previously known as Pay Away The Layaway) is an Orange County, N.Y. organization that helps donors and volunteers support these families, eliminating layaway tabs for gifts and household essentials, including games, toys, books, backpacks, coats and clothes. To help brighten a family’s holiday season and support them in the new year, consider donating to Pay Away, creating a social media fundraiser, or launching a workplace giving campaign.

11. Covenant House

During the holidays and throughout the winter, millions of unhoused people won’t have a warm place to lay their heads. Covenant House offers unhoused youth much-needed shelter, and since 1972, the group has helped connect more than 1.5 million people with a place to stay. Covenant House meets immediate needs for food, clothing, safety, and medical and mental health care and never turns away a guest without providing a needed service. The organization provides immediate care in short-term housing, as well as long-term support through its Transitional Living and Rights of Passage programs. 

Want to give all year? Consider joining Floret Coalition

We encourage cannabis industry professionals to consider joining Floret Coalition as a way to give back to communities harmed by the War on Drugs all year round. The group prioritizes the needs of Black, Latine, and Indigenous communities, raising funds and donating directly to a different organization each month. Since its formation in September 2020, the group has collected and distributed more than $270,000. More than 100 businesses, including CannaContent, donate to Floret Coalition. 

Holiday cheers to you and the spirit of giving!

Giving back at the holidays is a great way to celebrate, but you can support any of these organizations year-round, too. Whether you volunteer your time or pledge financial support, these great nonprofits and social brands are able to continue their work because of people like you. So, from all of us at CannaContent, thank you for giving what you can and we wish you a very happy holiday season.

The Evolution of Social Equity in Cannabis – And Where We Go Next

The Evolution of Social Equity in Cannabis – And Where We Go Next

Whether focusing on state legislation and regulations or the way cannabis brands engage with one another, social equity has become a key focus in building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive legal cannabis industry – but that effort hasn’t been without its challenges.

This Black History Month, we’re acknowledging the advancements gained by social equity advocates, examining the evolution of social equity as the legalization movement has gained ground, and identifying the progress yet to be made and how members of the cannabis industry can contribute to furthering the conversation.

What is social equity in cannabis?

Social equity refers to efforts in the cannabis industry to ameliorate harms caused by Prohibition-era policies and inequitable enforcement targeting Black and brown communities. Over time, the definition of social equity has expanded to also include discussions about equitable ownership and employment to build a representative cannabis industry that includes minorities, women, veterans, and other underrepresented groups.

“Social equity started in California, and the early adopters of social equity were really focused on those individuals and communities most harmed by the War on Drugs,” said Roz McCarthy, founder and CEO of Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM) and Black Buddha Cannabis. “It wasn’t just about equity ownership but also bridging the gap by re-engaging communities disproportionately impacted by investing tax revenue coming from the legal industry.”

Today, states are engaged in the development of social equity measures as part of their efforts to legalize cannabis. These provisions vary from state to state but include elements like streamlined licensing applications, automatic expungement of cannabis convictions, and state financial aid and public grants for social equity license holders.

How social equity has evolved as legalization expanded

Over time, social equity has become more robust and more central in conversations regarding cannabis legalization. Along with this shift in perspective as to what social equity means, so too have states learned from the successes and failures of those who preceded them, adapting legislation and regulations to devise their own social equity frameworks. 

“Cannabis is now a big business,” McCarthy said. “The whole purpose of social equity originally was to provide an opportunity for those most impacted and allow them to be early adopters. But it’s one thing writing a bill and another thing promulgating the rules to facilitate a program – that can be just as important as the intention in putting it together.”

McCarthy pointed to states like Illinois, where she said policymakers were deliberate about creating thoughtful social equity programs. However, challenges in executing those programs led to limitations in their effectiveness. 

For example, the State of Illinois initially faced criticism and lawsuits following its first social equity licensing application lottery, which saw only 21 of the 75 available social equity licenses awarded, some of which went to connected white applicants. 

The state has since worked to mitigate these shortcomings, establishing additional dispensary licenses for social equity applicants, working through hundreds of thousands of conviction expungements, and establishing community investment funds. In recent months, licensing of social equity applicants in Illinois has increased but key challenges remain; many have said they are unable to open due to legal constraints and financial barriers, potentially forcing them to sell their license.

“There are so many people in cities who were early adopters just sitting with a license but they can’t do anything with it,” McCarthy said. “It’s like having a dream deferred. How do we get them back on track to realize the possibilities of their dreams?”

That’s been the challenge of states that have followed. As the cannabis legalization movement has migrated to the east coast, it remains a major focus for policymakers, advocates, and entrepreneurs. Let’s take a closer look at New York and New Jersey – both of which are home to CannaContent – which are both working now to establish social equity measures and bring their adult-use cannabis markets online 

Social equity in New York

New York legalized adult-use cannabis with the adoption of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) on Sept. 22, 2021, eliminating criminal and civil penalties for possession of up to three ounces of cannabis. The MRTA also set the stage for the establishment of a $4.2 billion cannabis market, projected to be one of the largest in the country. 

Since then, the state has gotten to work developing the rules and regulations for the adult-use cannabis industry, with a major focus on social equity measures. Under the state’s definition, social equity businesses would include minority-owned, women-owned, and service-disabled veteran-owned operations. 

The state’s target is to award 50% of cannabis licenses – required to operate cultivation facilities, dispensaries, testing laboratories, and manufacturing facilities – to social equity applicants. It would also award these licenses based on geography, prioritizing neighborhoods and communities disproportionately targeted by Prohibition-era policies.

In New York City, Black and brown residents made up 94% of cannabis arrests in 2020, according to a data analysis by the Legal Aid Society, underscoring the inequitable enforcement of cannabis prohibition policies. And although legalization will put an end to these arrests, the lasting impact of a near-century of this style of policing is still felt throughout Black and brown communities nationwide. 

As part of the MRTA, New York State will establish what is called the Community Reinvestment Fund. This fund will allocate tax revenue raised from the cannabis industry with social equity reparations in mind. After covering costs for the Office of Cannabis Management and law enforcement public safety training, 40% of remaining funds will be directed to communities impacted by the inequitable War on Drugs enforcement, 40% will be directed to public education, and 20% will be directed to drug treatment programs.

To help bolster disproportionately impacted communities and social equity applicants, the Community Reinvestment Fund would help support public grants, low-interest loans, and business incubator programs for social equity cannabis businesses. The goal of these programs would be to ensure that social equity applicants who obtain licenses can actually use them in an industry filled with financial and regulatory barriers. 

New York State also included automatic expungement in its legalization bill, which eliminates arrest and conviction records for individuals who were previously charged with possession of three ounces of cannabis or fewer. The expungement process must be completed within two years of the passage of the law, offering a fresh start for those whose records were marred by non-violent cannabis convictions under prohibition.

Social equity in New Jersey

New Jersey, which legalized cannabis after a successful voter referendum in 2020, has established the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC). The social equity office under the NJCRC is known as the Minority, Disabled Veteran, and Women Cannabis Development Business Office, which is geared at creating rules and procedures to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Garden State’s cannabis industry. 

In New Jersey, social equity measures include prioritizing licensing applications for entrepreneurs in impact zones disproportionately targeted for enforcement under the War on Drugs, as well as minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned businesses in economically disadvantaged areas. Additionally, individuals convicted of a non-violent cannabis offense cannot be disqualified from licensing based on their prior conviction, a measure intended to provide pathways to ownership for those targeted by the War on Drugs.

In order to support entrepreneurs without the massive resources typically needed to apply for licenses, New Jersey has also carved out rules for microbusiness licenses, which are those businesses that would have up to 10 employees and 2,500 square feet of space. Microbusinesses would later be eligible to apply for expansions as well.

In terms of expungement, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization (CREAMM) Act includes the expungement of arrest and conviction records for those charged with non-violent cannabis offenses. It also required all local, county, and state prosecutors to dismiss any pending non-violent cannabis charges.

Advancing the conversation around social equity in cannabis

While the expansion of social equity has contributed to some meaningful advances in the industry, McCarthy said the conversation has become a bit muddied. Getting back to the core goals of social equity – providing opportunities to people who were directly impacted by the War on Drugs who otherwise would have been the pioneers of the legal industry – remains a critical goal.

“Social equity has been a bit of a buzzword, so at M4MM we’re adapting the idea of ‘social economics’,” McCarthy said. “What are the other ways of making an impact outside of social equity?”

According to McCarthy, the cause of social economics could be advanced by state efforts like reinvesting tax revenue in the health and education of local communities, as well as business partnerships between members of those communities and the broader industry. For example, McCarthy suggested offering tax breaks to social equity cannabis businesses to remove one financial challenge facing social equity license holders starting up their business. 

“How can we support social equity businesses more? Let’s remove taxes for them, that’s one less barrier,” McCarthy said.

But social economics is about more than just public policy, she added. It’s also about entrepreneurs supporting social equity brands. To that end, M4MM has created the Social Cannabis Brand Look Book, which highlights some of the cannabis and hemp industries’ social equity-aligned businesses. McCarthy encouraged entrepreneurs in the cannabis space to prioritize partnering with companies like those listed there to help build an inclusive and representative industry while also advocating for policymakers to improve upon existing social equity measures.

“Everyone needs to become an advocate – Black, brown, white, purple, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We all have to advocate and normalize this industry. I am not a social equity business, but I am social equity-aligned. It doesn’t have to be one group speaking out over the other – we all need to find out who are really making the decisions and provide the education and resources they need to make informed decisions.”

Roz McCarthy is the founder and CEO of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, an organization focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the cannabis industry. Its chapters span 27 states, three countries, and two Historically Black Colleges and Universities. She is also the founder and CEO of Black Buddha Cannabis, a sustainable cannabis wellness brand.

Pride 365: Four Ways Cannabis Companies Can Step Up

Pride 365: Four Ways Cannabis Companies Can Step Up

Once June rolls into July and Pride Month comes to an end, our collective attention as cannabis marketers moves on to Fourth of July sales and 7/10 campaigns. But Pride doesn’t end on June 30th for the LGBTQ+ community: It’s year-round.

While Pride Month is vital for bringing queer visibility front and center, the LGBTQ+ community’s contributions and perspectives should not be relegated to just this special awareness month. Seeking out queer voices, respecting and uplifting those points of view, and incorporating that insight into tangible change is an ongoing effort that takes awareness, commitment, and action.

Why is LGBTQ+ inclusion a cannabis industry issue?

Much of the legal cannabis industry we enjoy today is due to the efforts of activists at the height of the AIDS crisis who advanced the medical cannabis cause, eventually leading to the country’s first legal medical cannabis dispensaries. Honoring this legacy is not just about sharing this history, but by working to protect, celebrate, and uplift the community from which the modern cannabis industry descended.

There’s also the trauma experienced by many in the LGBTQ+ community: queer folks are twice more likely to experience mental health issues than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts. 

Cannabis can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression associated with that trauma. In fact, research has confirmed that queer people are more likely to consume cannabis than straight people.

These two facts are telling: The cannabis community and the LGBTQ+ community are deeply intertwined. Now, the question becomes how to reflect that legacy in your company. After all, queer folks were instrumental in advancing the legalization movement, which now stands on the precipice of the end of federal prohibition.

Four ideas for incorporating Pride every day in your cannabusiness

If you’re wondering how your company or organization can take practical steps to support the LGBTQ+ community year-round, take these four ideas into account:

#1: Include queer people in your decision-making processes

How are queer people involved in your company every day?

Look around the room and see who’s missing. Are queer people present in your company’s decision-making processes? Don’t just make a diversity hire and tell the world you did it: Give queer voices a meaningful and impactful seat at the table.

This is not just about who your company hires, but with whom you do business. Consider purchasing products from queer-owned businesses, hiring queer talent, and utilizing the services of queer professionals. Check out Inclusivebase, a resource maintained by Cannaclusive, for a database of cannabis brands and cannabis-adjacent businesses owned by marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+ community.

#2: Help queer people feel welcome 

How can you create a welcoming and supportive environment for queer people to be their authentic selves?

Something as simple as a Pride flag or pronouns in email signatures may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but there’s a reason these types of gestures matter: They are signals to queer customers and employees alike that your business is welcoming and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Larger efforts will not go unnoticed, either. For example, if your hiring strategy includes making effort to reach out to the queer community for viable candidates, customers will take note. Imagine a customer entering a retail environment only to be greeted by a queer manager time and again. That visibility and stability go a long way to quickly building a strong rapport with your customers.

#3: Consider giving back to LGBTQ+ causes

Part of honoring the queer community’s contributions to the cannabis industry is to give back to LGBTQ+ organizations that need volunteer and monetary support. This is especially important after June: Once Pride Month ends, collections, contributions, and volunteer opportunities tend to end along with it. (This is common among all awareness months, where engagement drops off once the marketing messaging fades away.)

Think about how your company can build strong coalitions with these organizations throughout the year. Are there regular volunteer opportunities you can engage with, products or services you can donate, sponsorships and scholarships you can fund? Especially for not-for-profit organizations, your support, in whichever form it takes, is strongly appreciated — and needed — long after Pride formally wraps up.

#4: Honor the queer legacy of the cannabis industry

How do you — and can you — hold space to honor those who came before us?

It goes without saying that the modern medical cannabis industry would not be here without queer activists. The movement has flourished due to the blood, sweat, and tears of figures like Dennis Peron, “Brownie Mary” Rathbun, and Paul Scott, whose efforts directly influenced the creation of the first legal medical cannabis program in the U.S. Raising awareness of these contributions is the first step to honoring these individuals year-round, not just when Pride Month calls for it.

Moving forward — together

Now that the cannabis community has transformed from its underground roots to a multi-billion-dollar industry, it’s important that we as an industry do not forget that. Whether you’re queer or an ally, if you participate in the cannabis industry as a professional, consumer, or both, we have to thank the queer community for its role in moving legalization forward. A true “thank you” doesn’t stop at turning your logo rainbow or writing a check to a queer organization once a year — it’s an ongoing, yearlong effort that we encourage every company in the cannabis industry to pursue.