The state-by-state legalization of cannabis has been a slippery slope.
On one hand, it's given peace of mind and certain freedoms to those who consumed the plant during prohibition. But on the other, it's become quite clear that the scales are vastly unbalanced when it comes to racial equity and reparations.
Historically, Black people have faced higher rates of incarceration than whites for having possession of marijuana, despite not necessarily consuming it at higher rate. And things have yet to change.
In 2021, data from the New York Police Department showed that 94% of total cannabis-related arrests in 2020 throughout New York City's five boroughs were people of color. Nationwide, the ACLU reported last year that over six million marjiuana-related arrests were made between 2010 and 2018, with Black people being overrepresented in incarceration stats - even in states where the plant has been legalized.
For a group that has been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs (and that's putting it lightly), you'd think we'd somehow be granted a leg up when it comes to forming legal businesses in the weed industry, or at least receiving some type of reparations. However, Marijuana Business Daily's 2019 Women & Minorities in the Cannabis Industry report found that less than one in every five cannabis businesses across the United States were minority-owned, which is a serious problem.
"We have to make sure our people are involved in the evolution of the legal cannabis market at every level, from cultivation to retail," rap artist and owner of Coffee & Kush, Problem shares with InStyle. "Our community has been irreversibly impacted by the criminalization of cannabis. People are still in jail for it, while businesses around the country profit. The word 'reparations' sounds like charity, when in actuality it should be mandatory that this country starts giving back what is owed to us. Even if that's just a fair shot in this already booming business."
Fellow advocate and co-founder of Cannaclusive, Mary Pryor, agrees. "Until we see reparations as a path to healing and not a threat, I am afraid that we will never reach the peak of acceptance of this concept," she shares. "Accountability should not be feared by anyone. White fragility, lack of critical race theory education, and coded racism run rampant in all spaces. Cannabis isn't any different."
Pryor also adds that with last year's racial uproar caused by the tragic murder of Black people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as President Biden signing legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday in the U.S. in June 2021, it's time to double down on these demands. And non-Black-owned cannabis businesses have a responsibility to genuinely step up in order to help even out the playing field.
"It will be crucial now more than ever to hold companies accountable based on last year's summer of civic awareness," Pryor says. "Making financial commitments with no plan, being afraid of sharing diversity and inclusion efforts within and out of company walls, and using influencers as tokens are big no-nos that we will have to educate everyone about in cannabis. You can make money and make inclusion a part of your operations day after day. It is possible. No one is perfect in any way shape or form, but change takes effort and inclusion."
While there are certainly not nearly enough cannabis brands doing their due diligence at this time, there are still a few that are giving back - as they should. Here, we're going to highlight seven businesses that are either editor-approved, have been transparent through Cannaclusive's The Accountability List, or are listed on Inclusivebase, a database of PoC-owned brands made in partnership with Kieryn Wang of AlmostConsulting.
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Cann Social Tonics
Long before brands started posting black squares to their Instagram feeds, Cann was pulling up for the Black community. The beverage brand is a founding member of Cannabis for Black Lives, a coalition of cannabis businesses working to support Black-led organizations and communities by helping people to get hired, amplifying Black voices in the cannabis space, and offering financial support to grassroots initiatives. Cann is also a member of the Black women-led Floret Coalition - a collective that raises money for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities affected by the war on drugs - as well as a sponsor of the Eaze Momentum program. In addition, they've given over $35,000 to programs like Supernova Women, Mass Eon, The Hood Incubator, and Copper House Detroit over the years.
CBD brand Tonic sells an array of products - from skincare to CBD pre-rolls, and even dog treats. But they're also serious about giving back through The Purpose Program, which was founded in March 2019. For Pride Month, every Tonic sale will go towards The Trevor Project - an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ+ youth - and they've supported initiatives like Copper House Detroit, Black Women's Health Imperative, and Essie Justice Group in the past. In total, the brand has donated nearly $60,000 to various non-profits, 90% of which focus on supporting Black and brown communities.
Besito is an LA-based cannabis company that sells mini joints, full-sized pre-rolls, and vapes. Since September 2019, Besito has partnered with Equity First Alliance, a non-profit that aims to repair the damage done by the war on drugs, to create the A Record Shouldn't Last a Lifetime campaign, which pushes for widespread automated expungements and helps those in need find legal resources. The brand currently donates 1% of its profits towards the initiative. In addition, they are also among the founding members of Cannabis for Black Lives and were sponsors of National Expungement Week in 2020.
In Oct. 2020, California-based cannabis brand Canndescent launched Justice Joints to help those incarcerated on marijuana-related charges get out of jail. One-hundred percent of profits from these premium pre-rolls - that come in sativa, indica, and hybrid strains - go towards prisoner release and record expungement programs for those disproportionately affected by prohibition. The brand has also partnered with Last Prisoner Project, a non-profit committed to releasing the estimated 40,000 people currently incarcerated for cannabis-related crimes in the U.S.
As a strategic and creative branding company for cannabis brands, Limone may not sell weed, but they've long been focused on giving back. Much like Cann, the company is also a founding member of Cannabis for Black Lives and has given a portion of profits from Limone events to National Bail Out, a Black-led organization working to free Black people currently behind bars. Founder Bianca Monica also created Sesh-Ins alongside Geraldine Cueva during quarantine, which she says is "a digital campfire where people could learn, share, and speak openly about Black and Asian solidarity, gender, and inequality issues within the space."
As one of the largest multi-state cannabis operators in the world, Cookies has a major giveback program. For those who are interested in being a part of the cannabis industry, Cookies provides both training and education in order to reduce entry barriers, which includes resume creation and review, mock interviews, and alerts for hiring opportunities. The company also sponsors expungements for those who are incarcerated for marijuana-related charges by working with initiatives like United Core Alliance and Mission Green. They are sponsoring The Hood Incubator's 2021 Cannabis Justice Accelerator to help advocate for a more equitable cannabis industry, as well - and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Find out more about Cookies' many initiatives here.
Gossamer sells a number of consumable cannabis products and also has a publication under the same name. The cult-favorite brand uses their platform to share the stories of Black and brown people underrepresented in both the cannabis and social justice space, including Tsion Lencho of Supernova Women, Hector Guadalupe, founder of A Second U Foundation, and Arissa Hall, co-founder of National Bailout. Furthermore, with the launch of the brand's first print issue, they offered pro-bono ad pages to non-profits committed to rectifying the consequences from the war on drugs, like Equity First Alliance, Women's Prison Association, National Bailout, and Supernova Women. Media coverage aside, during the start of the COVID pandemic, the company decided to donate 15% of all sales from March 17 through April 1 to National Bail Out and The Bail Project to free individuals incarcerated on cannabis charges. As of April 1, 2020, the company made a commitment to donate 2 to 5% of all sales to a different organization every month, Breaking Bread NYC and Building Black Bed-Stuy were among the first to receive funding.