The need for social equity in the cannabis industry has become the center of attention in recent years. Marginalized groups, specifically Black and Brown communities, have faced the worst of the War On Drugs, resulting in mass incarceration rates and stigmatizing persons with addictions.
While the tides are changing surrounding marijuana, the dialogue surrounding a more diverse cannabis industry is still prominent. While noted disparities in issuing state-wide licenses, a small fraction of Black cannabis industry leaders continuously highlight inequity.
There are plenty of privatized efforts to ensure equality within the industry. The Congressional Black Caucus Federation recently announced that they’ve teamed up with The U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) to provide Black students and recent graduates internship opportunities at some of the leading cannabis companies in the country. The companies included are WeedMaps, Canopy, Curaleaf, ACHEM, Holistic, Marijuana Policy Project, Columbia Care, and USCC.
The partnership between the CBCF and USCC will place nine interns into one of the eight cannabis companies where they’ll earn a deeper understanding of leadership positions in the private industry. CBCF, specifically, has played a significant role in helping young people enter the workforce through supporting internships programs, such as “Pathways to C-Suite Internship.” The foundation’s latest program hopes to open the doors for Black students to enter the private section.
With the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s efforts alongside the U.S. Cannabis Council, a new step towards normalizing cannabis is on display. Plus, this offers people from underserved communities the opportunity to step into a lucrative industry that is on pace to surpass $45 billion in annual sales in 2025, per Forbes. The USCC’s network provides the budding leaders of the future access to industry professionals with years of experience. It’s a better time than any to learn about the policies, too. Students will be gaining real-life, hands-on experiences with leading cannabis industries and understanding the laws in regulations within their city and state and at the federal level.
USCC’s director of social equity and inclusion, Tahir Johnson, explained to Marijuana Moment that this program aims to close the racial disparities in the cannabis industry, specifically in upper management and executive positions. “We know that there’s a lack of [black ownership in the industry], so we want to be able to make sure that we’re training, preparing, and giving opportunities to get their foot in the door at cannabis companies to help to lessen that gap and be able to create opportunities for entrepreneurship and future leaders and executives in cannabis,” Johnson said.
Cedric Haynes, the associate vice president for government relations at Weedmaps, was once an intern himself through the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Emerging leaders program over a decade ago. Haynes spoke to the impact of his internship, which ultimately led to his executive position at Weedmaps. For Haynes, he got an in-depth understanding of cannabis legislation and how they’ve evolved. Eventually, it launched his career in public policy.
Steven Hawkins, CEO of USCC and the executive director of Marijuana Policy, explained that the internship program is one of the few efforts to create a more equitable industry and shed light on hungry, young individuals striving to enter the field and make meaningful change. Hawkins added that interns would “gain valuable work experience” that is not only applicable in the cannabis industry but in other professions, as well.
“Interns will gain valuable work experience in a dynamic, growing, and evolving field,” Hawkins said. “Their on-the-job experience combined with the professional development provided by the internship program will set them up for success in cannabis and other professional paths.”
Pew Trust recently detailed the efforts put in place to provide “equitable cannabis licensing programs.” Unfortunately, even with federal legislation to enforce these opportunities for communities affected by the War On Drugs, Black-owned cannabis businesses are still rare to find, which will hopefully change with the USSC-sponsored internship program.
Creating a socially equitable cannabis market in the United States and other countries; requires further efforts. Canadian public broadcaster CBC reported in 2020 that there are significant difficulties and hurdles for Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs to obtain a cultivation license that would allow them to provide people with the main ingredient for their rolling papers. A study conducted by the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation and the University of Toronto identified that only 2% of industry leaders are Indigenous, and only 1% of legal cannabis operations in Canada are Black-owned. Unfortunately, there has yet to be any meaningful discussion or change to create a more diverse landscape in the cannabis industry.