Legal cannabis workers are pushing the boundaries and creating spaces where people can have access to medical marijuana, currently legal in 37 states. In Michigan, for instance, there are more cannabis workers than police officers. Employment is blowing up across the sector. Social equity is an important part of that equation. Social equity informs hiring practices but also encourages incubators to create space for people of color to thrive as business owners, CEOS, and high-level executives of dispensaries. The road has not, and will not, be easy, but creating equitable and fair practices will make the world of dispensaries a better one for all.
What is Social Equity?
Social equity is creating fair and just practices for everyone. This accounts for systemic inequalities to give communities access to opportunities they otherwise might not have. Equity acknowledges the presence of inequality and works to eliminate these unfair practices.
Legal Cannabis and Employment
The Leafly Jobs Report 2021 states 321,000 full-time equivalent jobs supported by legal cannabis existed as of January 2021. Growth is occurring across the sector. However, surprising numbers exist that call into question fair and just practices in this sector. Illinois, for example, is a city of 3 million people with 1 million Black people. The state still does not have its first Black-owned cannabis store. One major challenge to Black ownership and employment numbers brings the old “War on Drugs” into focus. Black Americans still feel the ramifications of this legally, which is keeping them out of the sphere of ownership, held back by harmful policies and records which bar them from being around dispensaries or running a business. Cannaclusive advocates for minority cannabis consumers and maintains a database of businesses owned by Black men and women, Latinx, Indigenous, and others who are generally outside the circle of ownership. While Black Americans represent 13% of the nation’s people, they only represent 1.2%-1.7% of all cannabis company owners.
One of the main ways to fight for social inclusion in black and brown spheres is through expungement of cannabis convictions, creating Black opportunities for employment and ownership, and funneling money from the cannabis industry to community support networks. Law enforcement practices have harmed communities of color for generations but dispensing dollars could create more fair distribution and equity which is needed to promote Black excellence and ownership. Illinois cannabis sales tripled in 2020 with more than $1 billion in total revenue. This includes 8,000 new cannabis jobs in 2020 but not a single minority-owned business is finalized for one of 75 new cannabis store licenses issued in 2021. This disparity happens in other states as well. More Black residents are still being arrested for marijuana charges than white Americans. Opening avenues for minority applicants to compete for limited state-issued cannabis business licenses is only the tip of the iceberg.
Racial and gender disparities remain despite growth in the industry. Cannabis is federally illegal so government grants and bank loans are not available. Savings, second mortgages, and other sources of income are needed to fund start-up cannabis businesses. Black Americans often face economic disadvantages and are redlined for mortgages. Racial wealth gap disparities make it challenging to find resources to fund these necessary businesses. Privately funded equity and incubator programs are emerging to help provide the resources needed to start up these businesses. Equitable models of cannabis businesses lending can help Black-owned businesses launch and create the leverage they need to push the industry forward in socially equitable ways.