In her ongoing work with Cannaclusive, Mary Pryor has worked to facilitate fair representation of minority cannabis consumers. In her new role with The Parent Company, she’ll facilitate businesses from those communities getting the best shot possible in the cannabis industry, while helping as an adviser to Jay-Z’s corporate venture capital social equity initiative.
Pryor explained to L.A. Weekly that The Parent Company’s plans first came on her radar a few months ahead of New York legalizing marijuana. Pryor said they found her experiences – both in the nonprofit sector as well as dealing with the harsh realities cannabis businesses face – valuable to what they were trying to put together.
“It was very serendipitous, I think, because now everybody’s using the term equity in such a unique way,” Pryor told L.A. Weekly of her decision to join the effort. “It’s kind of hitting like a weird point in our lexicon where people are using it in the wrong way and not really able to describe what it means.”
In that sense, Pryor’s job is to normalize the word to the point people actually use it correctly.
“Luckily, I’m that person that always tries to remind people this is a part of everyday life. This industry is just a reflection of what’s currently happening in this country,” Pryor said. “You have to understand that the demand for cannabis is important, access is important, but if we do not do what we need to, in terms of equity and in terms of support and access, then we’re making something that’s already very expensive for no real reason through taxes, and stigmatized, even more out of reach.”
We asked Pryor where the equity conversation is right now, compared to 2016 when the idea had yet to be turned into policy.
“Oh my gosh, it’s way different,” Pryor replied. “I think that now, you have more people that are hearing the word, and there’s a lot more interest around the idea. But you have so many programs that still have not worked out in the way that equity is intended, right?”
Pryor went on to use L.A. as an example of the setbacks advocates have faced on equity rollouts. “Like the whole entire situation with how applicants are still trying to figure out funding solutions, now they don’t talk to me. They don’t talk to me anymore.”
Pryor noted the high hopes for the Illinois program when it first rolled out, and then again in Detroit until its program was deemed unconstitutional. There isn’t a lot of funding for equity folks to challenge every legal ruling.
“We still haven’t seen equity and in terms of the tangible movement being spread across this nation in a way where we have live markets, whether rec or medical, that have black or brown people being able to start their own businesses,” Pryor said. “Access to capital is still a problem for everybody.”
Then when the equity programs that are trying to get off the ground face litigation challenges, it only compounds the problems for those equity applicants doing their best to get their foot in the door.
Pryor went on to speak about The Parent Company’s plans to do something about the funding part at the very least.
“Right now, $10 million isn’t enough to focus on everyone who is starting a business and happens to be black or brown or would be considered an equity applicant based upon what’s happening in their individual state or individual county for their program,” she said.
Pryor went on to describe the state of the federal social equity conversation as it has become intertwined with the national legalization debate over the last five years. She is concerned that without a total victory at the state level, pulling it off federally will be tough.
“Shout out to individuals in that state, but we do not have a state-launched [program] up and running, doing really super well – an equity victory on the ground yet,” Pryor said. “When you have the idea of federal legalization – which is needed – and decriminalization is needed. We’re even seeing more inequities being furthered in this country as melanated people, right?”
Pryor went on to point to the current state of race relations in America as the backdrop of the equity debate.
“You have people that are now afraid of learning history because they don’t like the fact that slavery happened. So they want to get rid of Critical Race Theory. You have people that are rolling back voting rights because that is all part of silencing votes for people of color because of the way that certain policies are being written and passed,” Pryor said before noting trans people had it rough at the moment in addition to whole communities of color. “I mean, you have a lot of things that are kind of like, ‘Wait a minute, why are we going backward?’’’
Pryor refused to let that take away from the progress of the times. But she admitted that the wider dialogue happening at the moment makes her have to pick and choose her battles.
“I think that for right now, those who care about this, that are in the space supporting equity and or pretending to support equity, there has to be a real unification of this across the front. From different brain trusts and people that know what’s going on in this nation. Because if not, we’re going to run into a lot of issues when this continues to get further down the line,” Pryor said.
She closed by noting the way people treat each other can seem like it makes her lose hope on a daily basis, but she has faith in humanity over time.