The news cycle makes it so that a subject of interest tends to lose its momentum once the spotlight moves on. In some cases, as with trends or flavors of the week, there is no harm to the subject being relegated to the niche section of the news. All too often, however, the same occurs to pressing issues, be they the environment, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ issues, or the ongoing movement for social justice reform.
When these issues fall out of the public conversation, creating substantive change can become much more difficult. Without the public advocating for continued efforts, lawmakers and businesses can take the foot off the gas, especially if their actions were done just to placate the scores of individuals tired of waiting for reform to arrive.
Virtually every aspect of the economy is part of the discussion. Cannabis, in particular, has been called on to step up and champion such issues. This calling comes after marijuana’s weaponized history in the drug war of the past century.
Many stepped up, as of late, in particular, to fight for social justice reform and inclusion for women and queer individuals. Yet, how many will continue when the spotlight lessens? Green Flower spoke to several operators in the cannabis space, who largely believe the industry is doing its part as much of the efforts shift to less public actions.
Is Cannabis Living Up To Its Communal Spirit?
Cannabis community ethos has often dictated inclusion for all and sharing. Those principles tend to run against capitalist ideals. Yet, compared to other industries, the nascent cannabis space is doing well at promoting inclusive ownerships and workplaces — though sources say it has room to improve.
Two events in recent months further catapulted such conversations to the forefront of the industry.
For LGBTQ+ individuals, June’s Pride month marked the 50th anniversary of the march and the Stonewall Riots that propelled the gay rights movement further into the public. In recent years, Pride and LGBTQ+ reform have caused a discussion in the community over what some consider the corporatization of Pride, misaligning with the ongoing need to progress rights and protections for queer people, including Black trans individuals.
Increasingly, the New York City parade and marketing campaigns centered around LGBTQ+ people during June’s Pride Month have received derision for their one-month-a-year support. The same has been said about other culturally important anniversaries like Black History Month.
The summer of 2020 provided another platform for companies to state their allegiance as the ongoing protests and rallies called for social and criminal justice reform. Many brand efforts included social media statements and press releases.
In the cannabis community, many companies continue discussing efforts online. According to several sources, however, the activity is also happening away from the public eye.
Narmin Jarrous, Executive Vice President of Business Development and Director of Social Equity at Exclusive Brands, told Green Flower it’s difficult to know if a company is approaching such issues correctly. Jarrous discussed how a company might be acting in good faith to improve its operations behind closed doors.
“If a company is doing it the right way, they’re doing a lot internally to ensure their staff members are supported and the changes being made are structural and permanent.”
Jarrous touched on the concerns of companies that instead focus on social statements rather than taking action. “A lot of what we see is optical allyship, which is concerning because the movement needs more than Instagram posts and press releases.”
Putting Action Behind Statements
While keeping up with companies’ internal activities is a rather trying task, tracking social responsibility is becoming more efficient. The Accountability List was created around the time of the protests that began in light of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The list was the collective of several businesses and individuals, including Cannaclusive, PussyWeed and Shop Shaw.
The living document is free to access and tracks over 300 cannabis companies, detailing company information, including its leadership and number of Black employees. The list also details any company statements concerning such efforts and any follow-up measures taken.
Some companies discussed with Green Flower the actions their companies have used to advocate for justice.
Jeffrey Zucker, Co-founder and President of Green Lion Partners highlighted American Cannabinoid Clinics, ViolaBrands, and The Arcview Group as brands setting an example by amplifying various voices, including victims of the drug war. Zucker, who is vice-chair of the board of directors for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), elaborated on one brand in particular.
Coree Schmitz, General Manager of Stillwater Brands and Ripple products, discussed how the brand is committed to LGBTQ+ issues year-round, including a partnership with Out Front magazine supporting the LGBTQ+-focused film series CinemaQ.
“We continue to foster an internal culture of diversity and acceptance and consistently have [approximately] 20 percent of our staff represented by members of the LGBTQ+ community,” Schmitz said of inclusive hiring efforts. Meanwhile, the company’s Ripple brand donated MacBook laptops to the Colorado LGBTQ+ nonprofit Youth Seen.
“We aren’t just prideful in June,” stated Schmitz.
Support can come in various forms of financial assistance. Exclusive Brands’ Jarrous stated that the company paid for the application fees for six social equity applicants. The company is also providing educational sessions to help applicants with the process.
“Our Social Equity Program is designed to address and combat the disproportionate impact Black communities have suffered with respect to cannabis prohibition, enforcement, and incarceration,” Jarrous stated.
Being A Mindful Cannabis Consumer
The task often involves a bit of legwork, but consumers can now shop consciously easier than ever before with tools like the Accountability List and online research of their own.
Once the consumer has the information they need, they can let their feelings be heard at the cash register.
Tori Rerick, Director of Public Relations for Colorado’s Moon Mother Hemp, discussed how a consumer could vote with their wallet.
“Spend money on brands that will choose community over cash flow.” Rerick added, “Invest in companies that actively prioritize inclusion and equity within their operations and support reversing the harm catalyzed by the War on Drugs.”