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How to Address Racial and Gender Inequity in the Cannabis Industry

[Note: This is a new, bi-weekly series about how cannabis activists can add value to today’s cannabis industry – by Amanda Reiman, cannabis activist and VP of Community Relations with Flow Kana. You can find other installments here.]

The framing of cannabis as a catalyst for social change is absolutely most imperative in discussions of racial and gender equity in the industry.

For certain, the issues related to drug war reparations and restorative justice are at the root of cannabis policy reform. And activists should absolutely focus on the inclusion of automatic expungement, retroactive release and other restorative justice measures in impending legislation and initiatives.

However, in looking to make long-term changes and challenges to traditional capitalism’s winners and losers, activists must firmly place themselves in service of ensuring that traditionally underrepresented groups in the Billionaire Boys Club, namely women and people of color, have a chance in the new cannabis economy.

If this industry’s birth and development results in business as usual in the board room, we will have wasted the best chance in our lifetime to re-adjust the social order.

The Cannabis Industry is Changing Fast

The nascent cannabis industry used to tout itself as a renegade group of women, queer people and other social justice warriors seeking to change the system by tearing down the walls of prohibition and supplanting traditional business with values-driven companies.

The first dispensaries were early adopters of this.

Looking back at the first Budtender’s Bash held in Oakland several years ago, I was taken with the people who were joining the industry. I mean this as a complete compliment: they were the outcasts, the non-traditional, the risk-takers and the “outside the box” thinkers.

They had tattoos and were non-gender conforming. They were every shade, trending towards darker and they felt that their work was every bit a demonstration of their right to protest a system that constantly told them they were less than.

Things have changed.

The industry became whiter, more male, and more mainstream. Now that announcing to the family over dinner that you are entering the cannabis industry was cause for celebration and not alarm, those who have always fit into the “mainstream”, “normal” crowds flooded the industry, sometimes displacing their predecessors.

The entire shift has activists like myself taking a page from Austin, TX, and shouting “Keep Cannabis Weird!”. But, as a social scientist, I also know that the “normalization” of the industry (although I think even using that word reinforces stereotypes, but I digress…) brings cannabis into the lives of so many that would not find its magic and relief had it not been for the budtender who looks just like their granddaughter.

Important Questions for Cannabis Activists

So, if the face of the industry is looking more and more like the face of American industry in general (white and male), how can activists forge another path for those typically left out of the economic development conversation?

And can that path ever be as direct to success as the well-worn path followed by typical American business success stories?

American industry favors a track record of success and access to capital.

Of course, we all know the struggles of access to traditional banking for small cannabis businesses, but there is another barrier not so obvious.

Money begets money.

What I mean by that is this: people with money like to give to people that remind them of themselves in their quest to amass wealth. Investor confidence, proof of past success and even the necessary connections to capital and knowledge concerning how to talk the talk is contained in a racist and sexist paradigm.

Certain populations get the message from a very young age that anything they want is available to them. Others get the message that they should take what they can get and not ask for too much.

This absolutely plays out in the quest for capital in any industry.

How can cannabis activists fight against the machine that is American industry? And can we have an impact before it is too late?

In my final installment, I will discuss equity programs, gender-specific business coaching and wrap up my series on cannabis activism in a cannabis legal world.

Amanda Reiman is the Vice President of Community Relations for Flow Kana, a branded cannabis distribution company that works with sun grown farmers in the Emerald Triangle. She is also the Chair of the Board for the Traditional Farmers Advocacy Alliance and on the Board of Directors for the International Cannabis Farmer’s Association, both of which engage in education, research and advocacy around support for traditional sun-grown cannabis farming. Dr. Reiman is also a Board member for the California Cannabis Tourism Association, the Mendocino Cannabis Industry Association, The Mendocino County Fire Safe Council, and The Initiative, the first incubator/accelerator for women-owned cannabis businesses.

After receiving her PhD from UC Berkeley, Dr. Reiman was the Director of Research and Patient Services at Berkeley Patients Group, one of the oldest dispensaries in the country, and the Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national non-profit that was engaged in the drafting and campaigns of legalization initiatives across the country and abroad. She also taught courses on substance abuse treatment and drug policy at UC Berkeley for 10 years and has published several research articles and book chapters on the use of cannabis as a substitute for opiates and the social history of the cannabis movement. Amanda currently resides in Ukiah, CA.

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