The cannabis industry is attempting to hold itself accountable in the ongoing conversations around equity, especially for the communities hit the hardest by the war on drugs. But how much can the industry do on its own without the effective implementation of workable regulations?
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is endorsing The Accountability List by Cannaclusive. NCIA is the industry’s largest national trade group and Cannaclusive focuses its advocacy and consulting on improving minority representation in the cannabis industry at all levels. The list is meant to serve as a regularly updated resource for businesses and organizations to share information regarding their “staffing diversity and support for causes related to industry equity and social justice, and examines those efforts in relation to their public statements and commitments.”
The announcement of NCIA’s endorsement of The Accountability List noted it was launched earlier this year following the national conversation that emerged from the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Public support from cannabis-related organizations that wanted to see a tangible tool to help make change happen also pushed the formation of the list.
“It endeavors to follow up on those statements to ensure measurable progress in the industry and highlight those who are actively working to improve upon the status quo. It is curated by Cannaclusive with the help of numerous volunteers and interns,” NCIA said when announcing the endorsement.
Cannaclusive co-founder Mary Pryor also weighed in.
“This list serves as a call to hold ourselves accountable to ensure a diverse and inclusive industry, as well as to be in active solidarity with communities harmed by the drug war as a means to end it and to reverse its impacts,” said Pryor.
As we sit here and wait to hear word on when we’ll see a vote on The MORE Act this fall, what would be the biggest win for cannabis yet on Capitol Hill, NCIA’s Executive Director Aaron Smith notes the forthcoming and continued progress is all the more reason we need to take the equity issue seriously.
“As more and more states regulate cannabis and we get closer to ending federal prohibition, it is increasingly important to make sure that the people who have been most harmed by the war on drugs are not left behind as the industry is taking root,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
Smith believes The Accountability List gives businesses the opportunity to show consumers, the industry, “and policymakers what they are actively doing to promote fairness and inclusivity in cannabis and beyond.”
Smith closed by noting how important the self-reflection part will be in all of this if the plan is going to have a choice. As companies look to take part in the equity conversation, they should probably look around their own offices first.
“We encourage everyone in the cannabis space to stand up for justice, be honest about where they can improve, and commit to doing so in the most forthright and transparent ways possible,” Smith said.
With the equity conversation, you’re not doing it justice if you’re not discussing timetables. Especially in regards to the communities they’re intended to benefit getting a real chance to own a piece of the industry. The longer effective regulation takes, the harder it will be for them to cut the biggest piece of the pie possible.
We asked NCIA how important it is for the well-intended programs to be sorted while there is something left for entrepreneurs to have a shot at.
“In such a heavily restricted and limited marketplace where competition is artificially inflated in the licensing process, speed to market is absolutely vital so it is equally vital that we do everything possible to address and promote equity from the start,” Morgan Fox, NCIA Media Relations Director, told L.A. Weekly. “This issue is obviously bigger than cannabis, but we have an unparalleled opportunity here with each new market that opens up to begin from a place of fairness and equal opportunity. When the day comes that cannabis markets become more open and less restrictive, we don’t want to be dealing with inequality in the industry that has become more entrenched than it already is.”
But how much can the industry do on its own? There has to be some kind of balance in the way we hold the industry accountable and those who are actually creating the systems of regulation.
Los Angeles has been one of the primest examples for trouble getting the ball rolling, but it’s happening everywhere. Worst case scenario in some places was equity programs being used as the scapegoat for wider problems regarding municipal regulatory infrastructure.
Fox spoke to what the industry can do on its own and what he’d like to see from regulators.
“Cannabis businesses can do a lot to promote fairness and equity, including instituting internal DEI plans and making a point to hire diverse applicants when staffing, stocking products from or utilizing the services of companies owned by individuals from marginalized communities, and directly supporting those communities through engagement and charitable giving,” Fox said.
Fox also emphasized that it is vital for businesses and investors to be willing to enter into partnerships that maintain fair ownership and control for the equity partners.
“Regulators are also important to ensuring that state and local equity programs are truly fair and equitable, and that community reinvestment programs are getting the funds they need from both cannabis-generated revenue and general funds where applicable,” Fox said.