As of 2017, 73% of cannabis executives identified as male and 81% were white. Little has changed in the cannabis landscape in the three years since, where the diversity divide has only deepened as more states welcome adult-use cannabis. Fortunately, with more states lifting prohibition, the question at hand now is, “How can we make the cannabis industry more diverse?”
First of all, we have to remember that diversity initiatives strengthen businesses. Studies show that diverse companies have 2X more cash flow. Diverse leadership increases revenue by 20% and gender-inclusive teams are 21% more profitable. In fact, employees are 35% more productive when they work in a diverse environment. If we want cannabis to solidify as a healthy, profitable industry worthy of long-term investment, we must embrace diversity.
We’re already seeing diversity initiatives hit the cannabis industry, and across state lines.
Illinois held its first-ever Cannabis Resource Fair on February 1. Panels focused not just on the ins and outs of the newly legalized adult-use cannabis industry, but on diversity. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called for initiatives inviting people of color to work not only in dispensaries, but non-plant-touching careers like graphic design, transportation, and accounting. But she knows funding can be a barrier for people of color, so Mayor Lightfoot is planning an affordable cannabis co-op. The co-op will invite people of color to grow in empty lots or abandoned buildings.
This sounds all well and good in theory, but in practice, diversity is hard to implement. Just look at Los Angeles: reparations and diversity were a critical part of its cannabis program. Since people of color were disproportionately targeted by the War On Drugs, Los Angeles implemented a social equity component to its cannabis program. In theory, LA was supposed to reserve licenses for people of color. But with many delays and administrative mistakes, the social equity licenses are languishing on an indefinite waiting list.
In fact, applicants to the LA social equity program have spent thousands of dollars preparing their businesses—as well as facing opportunity costs from a delayed start in the market.
Although social equity and diversity initiatives are a necessity to fuel the future of cannabis, it’s clear that municipalities are having a difficult time ensuring real equity. Diversity is becoming an urgent issue for the monochrome cannabis industry. The faster we can diversify, the more solid our future. Time will tell how states and municipalities can promote cannabis diversity.
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