Leaders from the cannabis industry gathered at the virtual Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference on Tuesday to share ideas on how social equity initiatives can bring restorative justice to communities affected by cannabis prohibition.
The panel was moderated by Last Prisoner Project board member Natalie Papillion. The group, which aims to repair the harm caused by the war on drugs, advocates for the release of people incarcerated on cannabis charges, and helping them rebuild their lives.
Revisiting Social Equity: Khadijah Tribble, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Curaleaf CURA, went over the concept of "social equity" — a term often tossed around, but rarely understood.
In her words, social equity is a framework for understanding how to use and interrupt systems that have been traditionally used to disenfranchise communities.
It's about removing the barriers to patient care, employment and investment opportunities in those community, she explained.
“Social equity for cannabis is for everyone, including those who have a criminal background related to a marijuana conviction, arrest or incarceration. Even if you have a marijuana arrest, it could be potentially devastating for you economically,” said Tribble. “It stands to reason that the industry has a big responsibility in addressing what has happened during the last 50 years."
Diversity and Inclusion Inside and Out: Hillary Black, Chief Advocacy Officer at Canopy Growth CGC, highlighted the importance of collaboration among companies to achieve the greatest possible impact. In that sense, big cannabis companies are not necessarily competitors.
Black, who has been working in cannabis advocacy for more than 20 years, also says social justice initiatives should not be used as a marketing tool. They should always be about authentic social impact, she explained.
“When you’re investing externally in social justice initiatives, it’s really important to have your own house in order,” says Black.
This means that within a company, the upper management and c-suites should be revised to represent diversity and inclusion. Educational programs should also be included to increase literacy and understanding about unconscious biases for the entire staff from the bottom up.
Seed Initiatives for Damaged Communities: Chicago-based Cresco Labs CL advocates for policies in Illinois’ Adult-use Act, and pushes for rebuilding and re-investing in communities that had been most devastated by the war on drugs in Illinois.
The company is doing the same in other states where it operates, every time the possibility of law reform arises.
“The goal is for us to create opportunities for people to participate in the wealth that’s being created by the end of prohibition,” said Barrington Rutherford, Senior Vice-President of Real Estate and Community Integration at Cresco.
Cresco’s role in being a part of the social equity movement in cannabis, is helping people figure out what is the right opportunity for them, he added.
“What’s the most appropriate opportunity? Where can they be most successful?” says Rutherford.
This includes investment and entrepreneurship opportunities, to better paying jobs in the workforce.
For small businesses, helping them own production, distribution and retail is a critical approach in helping rebuild communities.
Three Pillars: Black concluded the panel with what she believes are the three pillars of social equity: What are we doing to change the face of the industry? How are we investing profits to support those that have been locked up and locked out? And, what are we doing to undo past harms?
“If you stick with those three pillars, you really can’t go wrong,” she said.
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