By Andrei McQuillan, VP of Sales and Marketing for EcoGen Biosciences
The cannabis, hemp, and CBD industries have all made a massive global impact and changed countless lives. However, some communities in the United States are still left behind. Since cannabis has such a long and complicated history with minority groups in America, it’s no wonder that these communities continue to feel the impacts of the War on Drugs – even in locations where the plant is now legal. With thousands of people now making money from the burgeoning industry, this presents the need for social equity programs that help uplift and further advancement and business opportunities for all.
As Healthline reported, “In 2019 alone, the industry created over 33,000 new jobs, according to Leafly’s annual Cannabis Jobs Report… [however] people of color — particularly Black people — who’ve been disproportionately targeted by law enforcement for possessing, consuming, or selling cannabis are being shut out of the industry.”
Where States Stand on Cannabis Social Equity Programs
In response to this need for a more level playing field, some states and local jurisdictions have established robust, forward-thinking social equity programs for cannabis businesses, and while they vary in policies and overall impact, they are all a step in the right direction.
Each state has their own way of tackling the complex issue. And it is highly complex, with experts concerned about how states can set up financial systems and processes to support the applicants they receive.
Connecticut’s Social Equity Council was created “in order to make sure the adult-use cannabis program is grown equitably, and ensures that funds from the adult-use cannabis program are brought back to the communities hit hardest by the “war on drugs.”
Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission is focused on “encouraging and enabling full participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement, and to positively impact those communities.”
Washington State has formed a Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force “to center the voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities that have been most impacted by enforcement of cannabis-related laws.”
The list could go on and on – the real question is: are these programs doing enough to create real change?
Social equity programs do nothing if they are not practical and attainable in implementation. For example, California offers a grant program for local jurisdictions to create social equity programs. However, many have criticized the state’s inaction and called it ‘a farce of social equity.’
In contrast, New York has been touted as a pioneer of the most progressive social equity program in the nation. As Bloomberg reported, “Unlike other adult-use states with social equity programs, New York’s law expands the qualifications for a social equity applicant to include minorities, women-owned business enterprises, distressed farmers, and service-disabled veterans.”
Social Equity in Cannabis Industry vs. CBD Industry
While the cannabis industry and the hemp industry are often necessarily intertwined, there are some marked differences in how each industry approaches social equity. While the first evidence of cannabis use dates back to China, 2,500 years ago, CBD was only discovered as recently as 1940. Cannabis is also still under federal prohibition, so the negative impact on marginalized communities and minorities is much greater, creating a need for a more elevated playing field and programs designed to give back and uplift these communities and businesses. Since CBD and hemp are federally legal, they resemble and function more like any other legal industry.
Though the Hemp/CBD is closer to attaining federal legality, the large organizations are not establishing Corporate Social Responsibility programs right from the start, or instituting D&I departments. In contrast, Marijuana/THC companies must establish social equity programs or risk being seen as an organization that does not value culture or does not resonate with their audience. The Marijuana companies whose programs are more robust and authentically helpful to marginalized communities gain more appreciation and in turn, sales, from their customers. CBD companies could learn a lot from this.
How Diversity of Thought Leads to Meaningful Change
The word ‘diversity’ is often overused or watered-down. It ends up meaning different things to different people, depending on your life experiences, perspectives, location, community and values. To me, diversity comes down to the diversity of thought. By creating environments within organizations that foster differing opinions and appreciate that there are several ways to reach the same end goal, all companies become better and are better able to serve their customers. This is achieved by fostering Diversity of Thought; Diversity of Perspectives.
When consumers see messaging and policies from companies that reflect their own diverse life experiences, they will feel more connected and heard. It’s about creating real value by addressing underrepresented communities. I look forward to seeing meaningful change come to our industries, and it will take a cultural shift or an evolution in perspective of many people for us to get there. I believe that we will.
About: Andrei McQuillan
Andrei McQuillan is a marketing authority and proven innovator, specializing in executing business strategies that drive exposure, brand positioning and significant sales growth for products within diverse industry sectors. Andrei joined EcoGen Biosciences, the leading vertically-integrated manufacturer and supplier of hemp-derived specialty ingredients, proprietary formulations, and private-label finished products in the United States, because of his passion for evolving early stage companies in order to bring them to a higher level. EcoGen is a company that is built upon innovation, consistency, quality, and reputation. The hemp innovator fits in perfectly with companies and brands Andrei has worked with to help position for ultimate success.