Unlike so many longstanding and entrenched businesses, the nascent cannabis industry has the opportunity to have a profound impact on social equity. To date, although many independent activism groups are putting in the work, states are constantly falling short on their social equity promises. Some activism organizations and cannabis businesses, though, are doing whatever it takes to make space for the people who most deserve to be in cannabis.
Supernova Women, a non-profit fighting for cannabis tax amnesty for small and equity-focused cannabis businesses in Oakland, California, began with a chance meeting between Amber Senter and Nina Parks at a cannabis industry party. They connected over the realization that they were the only two people of color at the event. As it turns out, Ms. Senter had experienced the equity gap firsthand before.
“When I was working in the dispensary, at ground level, there were Black and brown folks all around – but that was operations, so it’s a little different,” said Senter. “When we get into the higher levels like ownership, it was all white people. We see all this capital coming in, and it is benefiting nothing but white people.”
Too often, people dismiss equity programs as the equivalent of allowing people to “skip the line.” This short-sighted thinking fails to acknowledge how many generations have been purposefully and deliberately excluded from opportunities of all kinds. It fails to consider the devastating and disproportionate effect the misguided “War On Drugs” had on disenfranchised communities. Before the cannabis industry becomes calcified and set in its exclusionary and racist ways, leadership needs to take action.
“The cannabis industry needs tax relief. Cannabis equity businesses, in particular, need more money and resources,” said Senter. “Small businesses and small farmers need help.”
Recent robberies targeting Bay Area cannabis businesses have underscored the need for tax relief. These targeted attacks only magnify the harmful effects for cannabis operators.
“Our communities do not have the runway for robberies and tragedies of this kind. We need more protection, and we need more funds and resources to improve security so that we can protect ourselves,” said Senter.
Whitney Beatty is co-founder of dispensary Josephine & Billies, founder of Apothecary, and an executive board member of Supernova Women. Beatty points out that the cannabis industry could even help those affected who aren’t interested in participating in the cannabis industry.
“The people who were locked up, the people who can’t get federal assistance. There are just so many pieces of the fallout there,” said Beatty. “It’s so much more than skipping a spot in the license line to make that whole. My grandmother lived in a community that was disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. And she has no interest in ever having a dispensary. Does that mean she never gets social equity, does social equity not apply to her?”
“I do what I do because [we] want to be out here teaching the industry how they need to be handling equity issues,” said Beatty. “We do this as a collective because it gives us more power, more reach. Not only do I want to see my business thrive, but other businesses thrive.”