Walking Our Talk: Beyond Equity Panels

Almost weekly there’s a panel, podcast, or other event where the importance of social equity is emphasized. People from all backgrounds are getting into the conversation. (Please note; people from systematically marginalized communities experience an extra burden when advocating for their own right to equity). Businesses across industries understand that at least acknowledging the importance of racial equity is key to their success these days, even if they do so with surface-level DEI initiatives.. According to Forbes, more than half of Americans think CEOs should be actively anti-racist, but 44% of people don’t think the business community has done enough to address systemic racism. 

While discussing the realities of systemic racism is an essential step, it doesn’t necessarily equate to impact. Cannabis Doing Good’s sister non-profit, Cannabis Impact Fund, released an Anti-Racism Guide for Cannabusinesses in 2021. The guide identifies 3 steps in the “Rinse and Repeat” of racial equity, meaning it’s iterative, and ongoing. It took us a long time to get here. Walking these steps allows us to exit the loop of endless conversation and enter reparative change for the Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people most impacted by oppressive systems, and for white folks who do not benefit from these limited systems either. In cannabis, we can be a part of creating something that has not been created before. It’s good for business and good for people.

Step 1: Commit. Deciding to begin is the first step in any journey. Stepping into commitment requires acknowledging all the ugly truths of systemic racism. Just like the hardest part of a workout can be getting to the gym; looking at the oppressive systems we all grew up with can be overwhelming. I didn’t choose them and neither did you, but we are disruptors, or we wouldn’t be in cannabis. Let’s disrupt. Anti-racism is not for the faint of heart, we will be imperfect. Progress not perfection is what we are looking for. WE will be imperfect in the community so we can walk together in it. Commitment will ask you for a lifetime of dismantling those oppressive systems we all inherited. We recommend beginning longevity practices like shame resilience and nervous system regulation now. In addition, find support amongst other white folks taking this journey. Groups like SURJ are dedicated to white folks working against racial injustice. 

Step 2: Educate & Assess. “All learning happens through culture.”-Zaretta Hammond, consultant at Center for Collaborative Classrooms. We’ve learned through the cultures we grew up in, cultures that were rooted in systemic racism. Naturally, those oppressive systems translate into our workplace. We need to apply a strategic lense towards pinpointing where racism and inequities exist in ourselves and the workplace. I highly suggest consulting with a racial equity expert to help educate, illuminate your blindspots, and co-create effective strategies for building an actively antiracist company culture. A good start is Cannabis Doing Good’s Racial Equity Self Assessment. Doing good isn’t only a moral imperative. Blueboard Inc. recently released a study showing that 60% of employees would leave a workplace where they didn’t feel they belonged. Belonging starts with culture and anti-racism gets to the root of inequity, creating belonging for women, LGBTQIA+, differently-abled people, religious diversity, and folks of all ages. 

Step 3: Implement. Ah implementation. Here’s where we see some break throughs and some break downs.. Lots of companies have taken steps to commit and educate themselves on anti-racism. After all, Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is projected to be an $8.6 billion dollar industry by 2026, but DEI is how you measure whether your efforts are moving toward an antiracist culture. They are not the end game. We haven’t seen the needle move on diversity, equity or inclusion because we aren’t likely measuring the right outcomes. . A cannabis business that knows its history,and recognizes  the racialized harm done to roll out a legal cannabis industry is empowered to make change. We are still subjected to all-of-the-other systems connected to a regulated market–that are built on oppressive policies and inherently antiblack. We can’t focus just on social equity applicants and think that they have the power to change “credit worthiness,” or even investor networks. We have lived in very different worlds with very different access points and privileges.  Businesses, banking, credit, all of these systems have elements of racism inherent to their function, part of their foundation. We, as cannabis folks, get to continue disrupting, and do what we can to shed light on inequitable elements that this cannabis experiment has shown us. It’s our privilege to operate here, in a place that still costs folks their lives. Here’s the sticking point with implementation; power sharing. We live in a culture that has established a system of privilege and scarcity based on race and gender. Meaning if you give up privilege you’re bound to face scarcity. Many white leaders have walked the path to active anti-racism and been met with the fear for their own financial well being if they relinquish some power. We do this together in cannabis. Clear-eyed and in community, we chip away at the parts we can see. 

“When we know better, we do better”–thanks Maya Angelou.

Everything is Everything: The Hidden Hideouts of Systemic Racism

A teacher of mine says, “everything is everything” as a way to explain the often inexplicable connections we have to each other and every living thing. For better or for worse, everything is connected. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) agency to set climate standards for power plants in the same week; I said to myself, “everything is everything.” 

On the surface these court actions may seem totally unrelated but let’s trace back how they originate from the same source. (psst, it starts with Institutional white supremacy culture and systemic racism). Side note, if you’re white and reading this, I encourage you to remember that I am pinpointing an overarching system. A system you did not create but can perpetuate or more excitingly, disrupt with your actions. In addition, ALL of us  were born into oppressive culture and systems, so much so that even Black and POC must unlearn its propaganda.  

Now, back to the connection between abortion rights, EPA, and institutional white supremacy. In both instances people from several groups most targeted by systemic oppression (Black, POC, trans, poor) will pay the highest price. Here are a few stats to illustrate the connection further. 

  1. The notion of body autonomy originated in the US as a result of the 14th Amendment which stated that formerly enslaved Black people would finally access family rights such as; marriage, raising their own children, and control over their own bodies. 
  2. Black child birthers are 3x more likely to die in childbirth than white counterparts.
  3. In a 2015 study, 23% of trans people avoided pregnancy care for fear of being mistreated. 
  4. Black people are 40% more likely to live in areas with increased climate related deaths and Latinx people are 43% more likely to live in areas with decreased work due to climate change. 
  5. Climate change and anti-abortion is a poverty trap. 

The stats are uncomfortable to read but it’s important to understand the connection. The web of  oppressive culture stretches even wider than this. Our obsession with thinness (fatphobia), beauty standards, ableism, and productivity all stem from this same origin point. I’m not saying stop taking care of your body or stop setting business goals. I am saying actively ask yourself…is racism or oppressive thinking hiding here? As a quick tool, Cannabis Doing Good offers a Racial Equity Business Assessment to help you find out and plan your action towards equity.This tools calls us into reflection and offers powerful insights for how to move forward.

Now that the groundwork has been laid, I want to leave you with a few more ideas for tangible antiracist actions (for individuals or businesses) to disrupt institutional white supremacy and oppressive culture. 

  1. Read the works of Black, POC, LGBTQIA+, fat, and differently-abled leaders.
  2. Work with experts in equity such as Cannabis Doing Good, the Gemini Group, Regan Byrd, or Zoe Williams  to map out a plan for intentional action. We don’t work with them, but want to highlight Tilray for committing to cover their employees travel for abortion services. 
  3. Support reproductive rights and environmental justice organizations; especially those who are led by people from systematically oppressed groups. One near and dear to my heart is Soul 2 Soul Sisters. Also, the National Network for Abortion Funds aggregates the info for over 80 abortion funds. Shoutout Grasslands for their fundraiser in support of Cobalt Abortion Fund
  4. Commit to regular education sessions on antiracism and it’s tangents; environmental justice, reproductive rights, etc. 
  5. Intentionally immerse yourself in environments where you are not the majority (with invitation and consent). 

At CDG, we always talk about the “constellation of good”. We believe every action taken towards antiracism and equity connects. Our industry has an especially potent power to create a legacy of liberation for both people and planet. If you feel called, join the constellation and become a CDG member. Member or not, now is the perfect time for collaborative effort to disrupt systems of oppression. 

What You Can Do for Pride and Juneteenth

I find it more than mere coincidence that Pride and Juneteenth both occur in June. To me their overlap is a kismet reminder of the irrevocable connections of oppression. After all, Marsha P. Johnson a Black trans woman, was one of the first activists to throw a brick at Stonewall on June 28, 1969. Audre Lorde, a Black, lesbian, feminist eluded to the idea of intersectionality as early as 1973 and Professor Kimberle Crenwshaw coined the term in the late 80’s.

Intersectionality defines the increased pressure and danger people who embody multiple marginalized identities experience. To be both Black and trans, or Latinx and differently-abled, or Muslim and larger bodied is to shake the foundation of institutional White Supremacy culture simply for breathing. Pride and Juneteenth are reminders of the daily revolution stirred by existing in Black and LGBTQIA+ bodies. 

We’ve seen a lot of corporations feel the heat this year for seeking to capitalize off of both these sacred celebrations. Walmart released a “Juneteenth” ice cream which has since been pulled from shelves and production. As per usual, “rainbow capitalism” descended in June with companies from Amazon to Disney pushing Pride themed products. These seemingly harmless marketing initiatives are actually insidious because in each instance they are not backed by genuine relationships with the Black or LGBTQIA+ community. Furthermore, if anyone is going to profit off of Juneteenth or Pride it should be the Black and LGBTQIA+ communities respectively. Here’s a few lists of cannabis companies to support this June courtesy of Emerald Magazine and Candescent. (these are the most comprehensive and up-to-date lists we could find but not exhaustive).

As a white person or a white-owned business you may be wondering; what can I do to honor those living at the intersections of oppression?  I’d love to share this list, inspired by the works of Guimel Carvalho and Amy Hogarth at Wayside Youth and Family Network and Aparna Rae of Moving Beyond

  1. Sit with the pain of racism and LGBTQIA+ oppression.
  2. Study the history and work of BlPOC and LGBTQIA+ leaders.
  3. Prioritize addressing racism with the same importance you would for your own well being. 
  4. Make a list of commitments to use your power, privilege, and platforms of power to give space to Black and Brown LGBTQIA+ communities. If you’ve already made this list, take stock of what you’ve taken action on. Where is the gap in your intentions and actions? Find an accountability partner/group and make the list public of how you’ll take action. You CAN do this on social media. 
  5. Ask yourself what white privileges you can give up and then give up those privileges.
  6. Stop talking about how uncomfortable it is to talk about racism or police violence.
  7. Release the fear and guilt about your own internalized white supremacy. Comfort and truth do not coexist. 
  8. Be quiet and listen to Black and Brown LGBTQIA+ about what needs to be done.
  9. Intentionally spend time in places where you’re a minority. Ethnic grocery stores, restaurants, music venues, and intentional community space if you’re invited. 
  10. Hold other white people accountable not on social media, instead with measured voices that call folks in to look and wrestle – to change. We are interested in courageous conversations, in hearing folks out and in allowing themselves to feel terrible and to let that feeling be a crucible for change.

These types of culture overhauls and changes don’t happen in a vacuum or without support. We highly recommend doing this work in the community. On a personal level that looks like accountability partners on a company level we highly recommend working with trained antiracism/anti oppression professionals such as Cannabis Doing Good, Ecquinabis, and The Gemini Group. Also, check out this Pride read from FlowerHire. Together, we do good. 

The Good News – What DEI Needs to Succeed

Have you ever lit a joint without fire? (play along with an old school cannabis lover) You could have the finest flower perfectly rolled, but without some sort of flame…no smoke to be had. I like to think of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as that beautiful doobie, waiting to be shared as medicine for all. The people are gathered ‘round, eager to participate. But something is missing. Antiracism is the fire that ignites DEI. Doesn’t matter how many joints we roll…no one is smoking without that fire. 

Now that we’ve enjoyed a little metaphor; let’s break down what it means for cannabis businesses. It means our industry is still 97% white owned, with decreasing numbers of women, and low LGBTQIA+ representation. Now that just doesn’t make sense when the global DEI budget is expected to grow from $7.5 to $15.4 billion by 2026. In fact it’s bordering on insanity. You know, doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. 

DEI cannot achieve what it has valiantly set out to accomplish. Standard DEI doesn’t touch the root cause of inequity and exclusion-systemic racism. White people are naturally not inclined to talk about racism in the same way people know not to play with fire. We don’t want to get hurt. Addressing racism triggers the same brain response you’d feel if your house was on fire; fight, flight, or freeze. Please note, BIPOC people cannot avoid being harmed by systemic racism and experience a different form of racialized trauma

Ineffective DEI deprives our industry of equity and costs us both money and time. Diverse teams are 70% more likely to capture new markets, produce up to 41% higher revenue, and are 35% more likely to outperform competitors. Speaking of competition, keep in mind that 66% of Gen-Z consumers would switch to a brand committed to purpose. Gen-Z women are the fastest growing cannabis consumers. 

Even a brand committed to DEI can easily miss the mark on expressing and embodying their purpose without antiracism. Here’s a quick list of how antiracism boosts DEI, based on Cannabis Doing Good’s Antiracism Self-Assessment for Cannabusinesses. 

  • Company Commitments: Creates a baseline of racial equity in your mission, vision and values which subsequently addresses equity based on gender, age, sexual orientation, and differently abled people.
  • Hiring, Recruitment and Retention: Creates safe pathways for BIPOC to enter, stay, and lead your organization? 
  • Marketing and Communications: Paves the way for effective, authentic marketing that doesn’t culture vulture BIPOC communities. 
  • Community Engagement: Optimizes engagement to support Black and brown communities most impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Policy: Addresses the 48,000 collateral damage laws that still target Black communities today. 

We live in an era full of resources that harness the transformative fire of antiracism work. I personally recommend utilizing a variety of free tools and partnering with experts like Cannabis Doing GoodThe Gemini Group, Regan Byrd Consulting, Zoe Williams, and Allies to Abolitionists (this list is not at all exhaustive). Antiracist DEI benefits people, brands, and businesses.  I’ll smoke to that.

The Good News – The Do’s and Don’ts of Community Engagement

Community engagement  is really about one thing; mutual benefit. Given that Black and Brown communities paid the heavy price of the Drug War, we believe the cannabis industry today must work to support communities, offer repair where it is required and collaboratively build relationships that steward reciprocity. Whether it’s 4/20 or any other day let’s support efforts that matter given our history. First and most importantly; the community perceives and receives value from your engagement . Secondly, a well centered community relationship considers repairing drug war harm. The American drug war directly targeted Black and brown people and therefore repair must be focused on the issues of highest priority in those communities. Lastly, your community work should align with your business objectives. Doing the right thing must be tied to both your success and your community’s health. Before jumping in, Let’s get clear on  what community work is NOT. 

  1. Charity
    • Your investment whether it be time, talent, or treasure is valuable. However, consider that dollars alone are not going to repair Black and brown communities. Read: Charity does not inherently equal change. So to influence long-term change, consider social change modeling, rather than white saviorism charity.
  2. A Publicity Stunt
    • Don’t come in cameras blazin. Community work is relational not transactional. Of course, when the time is right both you and your community partner will benefit from publicly sharing your work together. Until then take your time and get to know the passion + people behind the mission. Remember; the vetting process is mutual. Your confidence and alignment with the organization is equally important as their confidence in your company and intentions. 
  3. A Bandage for Internal Work
    • Before you begin external equity engagement, consider looking in the mirror first.  Determine if your mission, values, and systems are working towards antiracism. Need help? CDG’s Racial Equity Self-Assessment is a solid starting place. Antiracism is the epicenter of equity. Addressing racism addresses the multitude of ‘isms. Community work at its best boosts equity not only by redistributing resources but by repairing the institutional racism that we all inherited; but can ditch with time and effort. Without antiracism education you could unknowingly become an agent of harm rather than repair. And that isn’t exactly a good look for your business. 

Now that’s out of the way, here’s why community work is so valuable. 

  1. Win-Win Situations
    • Trust us, you will gain more than you give. Being in relationship with a community will enrich your company culture, connect you with brilliant people doing incredible things, and stretch your understanding of the world. Community is never responsible to teach you but if you’re authentic, respectful, and open you’ll likely learn a lot while your investment helps grow the good you care about. Pro-Tip: Purpose-driven, community-engaged companies outperform their competitors by 42%.
  2. Legacy Building
    • When we’re all old and gray, smoking our favorite flower it sure would be nice to look back and say we used our collective cannabis power to do Good. What’s Good you ask? To us; it’s racial justice and environmental sustainability. Community engagement happens to be a perfect vessel to make a positive generational impact. Products come and go, impact is a legacy.
  3. Taking Your Talk for a Walk
    • Community engagement is the footwork for your reputation. Take Terrapin Care Station for example; TCS has invested years into building their community engagement and has invested time, talent, and treasure. They have shown through action that “Terrapin Cares”. The data shows 91% of millennials and 66% of Gen-X/Boomers would switch to a purpose driven brand so caring means winning the market too. 

Take a peek at our Antiracism Guide for Cannabusinesses for more tips and resources.