A while ago my daughters were playing. All their toys were in the living room and when my wife arrived, she quickly and sternly told them to clean up, and then she left and retreated to her office. When she returned, the living room was spotless. The mountains of LOL Dolls, random pillows, and fort making materials were gone. “Great Job, ladies!” my wife said with a perfect mix of surprise, accomplishment, and skepticism. But then she walked into their playroom to find all the toys that were in the living room piled high in the new Ground Zero. She immediately called them down and what she said would forever change the way I looked at the cannabis industry. She said something so profound yet so simple. My wife told our girls that “you [they] didn’t clean up, you just moved the mess.” That spoke volumes to me as I reflect on the cannabis industry in the United States Market and this fight for “social equity.”
Reflecting on how states are putting together their medical marijuana program that simple phrase should deeply resonate for those who have been doing social justice work for years. States are adding a social equity overlay to their programs to be “more equitable.” And for me, these plans are acknowledging not that the cannabis industry is already unfair, but in a way, it’s admitting the structure of the United States if not intentional in new creations, we will fall helplessly on broken structures of unfairness. They know the default of the US and it’s intentional negligence of particular demographics of people. Yet, we isolate the plans of Social Equity in cannabis to the cannabis industry.
Let’s be clear, you CANNOT address social equity in cannabis without addressing the issues in other industries that will be and have been cannabis adjacent. You can’t address social equity in cannabis without addressing the social inequities in education. How can you address it in cannabis if we haven’t yet addressed the unfair treatment in lending and in banking? How are we executing social equity in cannabis if we don’t address the issues in housing, or higher Education?
In fact, we started the Cleveland School of Cannabis and the Harrington Institute because we know when those four-year institutions and those historical systems wrap their hands around this industry, there will be a population of people with no access. How do we eliminate inequities in cannabis if don’t address the issues in hiring practices? These are structures and practices that say a person named “Tyrone” isn’t as qualified as a person named like “Bill.” In Chicago, where some of the largest MSOs exist, the social equity program hasn’t launched while the others have gotten another head start. We are talking about historical inequities. No matter what we do, if the birthing tree is riddled with racism, exploitation and marginalization, anything that falls from those branches will maintain the flavor profiles of the mother. That apple ain’t falling far. We are utilizing those incompetent structures, from government to policy creation, to guide us.
Look at the optics of the cannabis industry. They already mirror typical Corporate America where most owners and governing bodies are Rich White folks. How are we thinking we will get to 30% ownership when we aren’t seeing that anywhere else? Furthermore, this is a brand- new industry and where do you find most of the Black and Brown folks? In the social equity space doing social equity work from nonprofits to diversity positions in major companies. That’s how it is in almost every other major industry. While those are extremely key positions how does it change the profile of the industry?
If we don’t deal with historical issues in every other aspect of this society, we aren’t cleaning anything up in this new industry…
We are simply… moving the mess.