Cannabis Industry Still Struggling with Diversity and Injustice
The cannabis industry is flourishing now more than ever. States such as Illinois have turned to legalize recreational marijuana use, and the economic results have been astounding. Within the first month of legalization, customers in Illinois have already spent nearly $40 million on recreational marijuana.
With big business comes big politics and make no mistake, candidates’ views on the legalization of marijuana are having great implications on the polls. Now more than ever, candidates are making it a point to have an official stance on the matter, as opposed to being an extremely niche issue in the past. Tracking presidential candidates’ stances on legalization is extremely important to some, and thankfully there are resources available to do so.
As a whole, the legalization of cannabis has been a huge plus on multiple levels. Veterans have returned home from war and become addicted to painkillers, further adding to the nation’s issues with opioid abuse. For those in medical and recreationally legal states, however, the access to THC and CBD products have completely turned their life around. The use of medical marijuana to treat both PTSD and chronic pain from war has given great incentive to both big business and politically inclined folks to join in on the fun.
Even recreational users are finding their interests more welcoming, with many companies in states such as California, opting to drop drug testing for the substance altogether. Many companies today would much rather their employees go home and enjoy a bong hit and some snacks rather than drink themselves into a stupor. Developments such as these have the culture of cannabis more welcoming and mainstream than ever. You can practically walk around somewhere like San Francisco with a joint in your hand. However, not everything is all good when it comes to legalizing weed.
However, for people of color, it has been difficult to view everything with such optimism. Discriminatory laws and sentencing have targeted people of color and sent to jail for decades for even having half a joint in their possession. For those with family members still in prison, it’s even more disheartening to see the glorification of cannabis by the same media that has spent years condemning its use. As weed becomes even chicer and attracts users and huge corporations alike, these same people of color will continue to be ignored.
Barriers to Entry
Perhaps the biggest issue at hand, however, is the barrier of entry for people of color into the industry. Taking an optimistic approach, you may be inclined to focus on those from these communities who can enter the industry moving forward. This has also been an issue as the cannabis industry has seen the same issues with diversity in the workplace as in other industries.
Employment in the cannabis industry is fairly tricky to navigate as official titles and roles continue to evolve and continuously grow within companies. For people of color, these issues almost double as there are not many legal precautions being taken or enforced when it comes to hiring for diversity. The industry is very much still in the “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” phase. Unfortunately, many people of color do not have pre-existing contacts within the industry and are thus being indirectly shut out as business owners operate out of uncertainty.
This leads to perhaps the biggest issue with diversity in the cannabis space, the lack of information and education provided universally. The “War on Drugs” of the ’80s is remembered because of the amount of vigor the nation had behind the message and the publicity it received. Throughout the decades there were countless commercials, school programs, and community events to promote the “War on Drugs” and in many eyes, create a bit of fear-mongering.
”War on Drugs” and Discrimination
The same amount of energy and resources that went into the “War on Drugs” should be put back into the cannabis industry, specifically targeted at the same communities previously condemned. With a change so huge in this nation’s history, it’s imperative the government take responsibility and remove those same stigmas that they themselves created. Discrimination against those who use cannabis or have been previously arrested for possession has not stopped and unfortunately does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
Entering a new industry, or even understanding that opportunities in certain fields exist can make all the difference in the world. Currently, those from underserved communities are still on the receiving end of the negative associations of cannabis. The idea that they are potential professionals in the field usually has never even crossed their mind.
In order for the nation to make things whole, effort must be put into actively educating young people of color on not only what opportunities exist in the cannabis industry, but HOW to enter it. Whether it’s creating scholarship programs revolving around agriculture, or walking those interested through a grow house process, the possibilities are endless when it comes to involving these communities in an industry they’ve gone from being demonized by, to cut out of altogether.
There are, however, several organizations that are taking action in increasing the diversity within the cannabis industry. Below are 3 organizations taking the reins on improving diversity in the space.
Minorities for Medical Marijuana
Established in 2016, Minorities for Medical Marijuana is committed to cultivating a culturally inclusive environment where diversity of thought, experience and opportunities are valued, respected, appreciated, and celebrated. M4MM serves as a resource to the community by providing information, referrals, advocacy, coordination, and education regarding cannabis legislation, events, activities, initiatives, and discussions.
National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance
The National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance were founded to create social equity, social justice, and diversity in the Cannabis Industry. NDICA’s goal is to create an ethical and equitable cannabis industry to reduce barriers contributing to the lack of representation of those most impacted by the War on Drugs, including people of color and other marginalized community members.
Minority Cannabis Business Association
The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) is the first 501(c)(6) not-for-profit business league created to serve the specific needs of minority cannabis entrepreneurs, workers, and patients/ consumers. The organization currently serves members from across the United States. Its 15-member board of directors is comprised of a diverse group of cannabis industry veterans and activists from across the U.S.
With organizations such as these taking the initiatives to deliver resources and inspire people of color to join the cannabis industry, the barriers of entry will continue to be torn down and diversity in the space will only grow.