In the last decade alone, almost 16 million people have found themselves locked in a cage and stripped of their freedom for consuming or selling a plant. A disproportionate amount of those people are BIPOC – BIPOC, meaning black, indigenous, and people of color. Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that those same groups of people who have been most persecuted by these unjust laws and policing practices are now being boxed out of the legal cannabis industry. One organization, Cannaclusive, has made it their mission to address the systemic racism and inequality that plagues the hemp and marijuana marketplace.
A History of Unfair Treatment
Cannabis prohibition has been a blight on the whole country, but when the data shows that African Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts despite reporting similar usage, it becomes apparent that marijuana laws have been used to criminalize specific sub-groups of marginalized people.
The United States Government spends nearly $47 billion dollars of taxpayer money annually to fill prisons with non-violent drug offenders. Marijuana convictions tear apart families, destroy BIPOC communities, and leave the convicted with an uphill battle to find employment and housing upon release. The blatant racial bias in the enforcement of our drug laws has led many activists to view the for-profit prison system as nothing more than a thinly-veiled continuation of America’s original sin – chattel slavery.
Why is Legal Cannabis so White?
Despite the draconian enforcement of cannabis prohibition in some parts of the country, legal hemp and marijuana markets are raking in loads of profits. In 2018 the industry reported $10.4 billion in sales, and some economists predict that number will balloon to over $150 billion by 2025.
But who’s actually getting a piece of these enormous profits? Spoiler alert: it’s not the communities who have most suffered under prohibition.
Why is there a lack of representation of BIPOC in the legal cannabis industry? Well, for one, anyone with a criminal record will have trouble getting a foot in the door. Most states expressly forbid those with a prior controlled substance conviction from acquiring a cannabis business license. Activist and author Dasheeda Dawson put it succinctly in a phone interview with mashabale, saying:
“Most markets were started by purposely keeping out people who have prior convictions with marijuana, and as you know, black people are almost four times as likely on average to be arrested for cannabis possession.”
There’s another monumental hurdle that all cannabis businesses must leap before getting off the ground, and that’s financing. Getting into legal marijuana and hemp industries requires a tremendous amount of upstart capital. Historically, BIPOC have been overwhelmingly more likely to be denied loans for businesses and mortgages, and it’s even worse with cannabis. Because of the plant’s nebulous legal classification, most lenders refuse to finance anything cannabis-related. This means all the upstart costs are going to have to come out of pocket, disqualifying anyone who doesn’t already have big-time connections or wealth.
What is Cannaclusive?
Cannaclusive is a business created by cannabis entrepreneurs and marketing specialists striving to solve cannabis’s inclusivity issue. Each of the Cannaclusive founders has a pretty impressive resume:
Mary Pryor is a Detroit native and digital marketing savant who’s worked with giants brands like Viacom, Ebony Magazine, Sony Music Group, and CBS News.
Tonya Flash is a consultant with over twelve years of experience working with Fortune 250 companies. She specializes in connecting new and established brands with an audience.
Charlese Antoinette brings nearly a decade of style and design expertise to the table. Some of her past collaborators include Nike, BBC, Converse, and Vans.
What Does Cannaclusive Do?
One of the most important things Cannaclusive does to help address inequality is to offer consultations that can arm marginalized people with the knowledge they need to succeed in the industry and connect them with the necessary resources to transform their ideas into reality.
Part of what fuels the lack of diversity at current cannabis businesses is the issue’s invisibility. Cannaclusive is tackling transparency with their accountability list – a living document that keeps tracks of different cannabis businesses’ social equity statements, hiring practices, and history with racism.
Inclusivity goes beyond the board room; marginalized communities need to see themselves represented as consumers as well. That’s why Cannaclusive created a signature photo series showing a diverse spectrum of people enjoying cannabis products. Any person or business is free to use the photos, so long as they credit Cannaclusive.
The Future of Cannabis
There’s no doubt that more cannabis legalization is on the way. The vast majority of Americans support legalization, and the cat’s been left out of the bag in regards to the massive taxable marijuana profit margins. As the industry grows, we all have to do our part to make sure it expands in a way that is equitable to all people, regardless of race or gender.