Diversity in the Cannabis Industry

Updated: Aug 4

It was only a few years ago that the cultivation of the cannabis plant had come legalized. Yet, many of us are still striving to eliminate the previously inaccurate and harsh classification the plant had received. While cannabis has been used for centuries in our world’s history, the plant was eventually defined as a Schedule I drug — which has demonized and stigmatized the plant.


Once this change occurred, the public took notice of how people of color were disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs, which left non-whites to be prosecuted within the cannabis industry way harsher than white people — even after regulations were softened. Since then it has become crucial to fix these issues and diversify the cannabis industry.


As much as we’d like to believe the industry of cannabis is both diverse and inclusive, it simply isn't. The cannabis industry has grown and changed dramatically over the course of history. Yet, along the way, many have been disproportionately hurt by it while others have greatly benefited from it. As an industry determined to relieve and heal people, we question, why is diversity so scarce?

Racist Roots

Right now, the industry of cannabis is dominated by white people, mainly white men. Sure, we’ve seen an influx of female cannabis business owners over the last few years, but these women are overwhelmingly white, contributing to the long-standing racial disparity in the cannabis industry. Currently, the percentage of cannabis businesses owned by white Americans is around 80%. From this number and our history of cannabis, there is an obvious racial disparity.


Historically speaking, Westernized cannabis laws

has disproportionately affected BIPOC since its popularization in America. Way back in the 1920-1930, we saw an influx in cannabis consumption in America, mainly immigrants from Mexico who fled the destruction of the Mexican Revolution. With this, cannabis became swiftly demonized and Mexican immigrants were the easiest to place blame upon. Eventually, Black jazz musicians became targets for their references to the cannabis plant in their music, said to be glorifying “Reefer Madness”. While this was the farthest thing from the truth, these damaging generalizations and stigmas remained and caused a residual effect in America — even today. This can be clearly seen by the lack of diversity in the cannabis industry.


Those of color interested in becoming a part of the industry will face a number of hurdles totally different from those of whites. Despite the legality of cannabis in the US, there are gray areas that pose risks directly to those who are not a part of the white population. It would seem that from the start, BIPOC was practically excluded from the cannabis industry.


Strive for Inclusivity

This should be obvious — fostering diversity and inclusivity in the industry is vital for its progression and growth. Cannabis is God-given and has never been exclusive to one type of person or culture. The plant has been utilized and consumed by people all over the world for ages. It is this humble plant that brought many of us together, no matter who you are or what background you come from. Everyone has been able to utilize and consume cannabis for distinct, unique reasons. This is why there’s no reason for things to be different today, yet, it often feels just this way.


The narrative that’s constantly pushed is that cannabis products are for everybody, yet the numbers don’t seem to reflect this. Instead, it seems like these products appeal more to the white majority, neglecting minorities who continue fighting for representation and equality in the cannabis industry. This idea may not be portrayed outwardly, yet it’s clear by the lack of representation and diversity isn't where it should be.


In a white-male-dominated industry, minorities feel underrepresented and, therefore, don’t feel as welcomed in the space and places they should. With racial and gender diversity, people who love cannabis as much as you, get the chance to not only indulge in but also benefit from the — and honestly that’s how it should have always been. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t make change happen.


As we said, in order for the industry to grow, we must prioritize inclusivity and diversity. By partnering with BIPOC business owners and manufacturers, you can help open the door to so many more customers and opportunities. Furthermore, working directly with communities of color will also help open the eyes of the industry that there are some much-needed improvements. With more opinions, more voices, and support, there will be more representation from all over the planet, with more and more businesses learning how to better connect with their communities directly.


A Future for the Underrepresented

Augmenting the voice of underrepresented individuals in the industry could be one of the best choices we could make. Despite the oxymoron, BIPOC make up a large percentage of those who consume cannabis — even though they’re not the audience of appeal and being marketed towards. But changing this has the potential to influence sales significantly, boost morale, and further grow diversification in the market that it’s been lacking. Thankfully, there are many cannabis businesses nationwide that are witnessing the potential that this change has made, with efforts finally being put into reversing the damage the racist War on Drugs has had on the underrepresented.


More and more initiatives are being put in place to ensure that the industry becomes the diverse space it should have always been. Recognizing the great racial disparity in the industry, many cannabis organizations have invested their efforts in creating programs to help expunge victims affected by unfair (and racist) drug laws, while many CEOs are bringing the long-ignored problem to the frontlines. And speaking out publicly against the inequalities and racism within the industry.


While we are seeing some progress, this is only the beginning of our fight. Only until the industry is saturated with people of color, will we be able to see real change, which is absolutely crucial in any industry and the world today.


Conclusion

We understand undoing the mistakes of our past isn’t easy to fix — much of it stems from systemic racism and many have thrived off of it for some time. But you can do your part and help boost diversity in the industry today by learning about the history of cannabis in America as well as supporting organizations that uphold the ambition of expanding diversity. We achieve more together — we can and we will.


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