Report Suggests Ways Cannabis Industry Can Address Social Justice Inequities

The Seeds of Change Report, released by Leafly for the first time this month, is an examination of how social justice, equity, and inclusion policies are implemented across the United States’ 19 legal cannabis markets as well as how cannabis legalization can implement eight key strategies to make the industry more fair and equitable. One of the most glaring statistics found in the report reflects that while Black people make up 14 percent of the population of the United States, only 2 percent of America’s estimated 30,000 cannabis companies are Black-owned.

This type of data is hardly shocking considering the systemic inequalities that disadvantage people of color at consumer, production and entrepreneurial levels within the industry. Leafly’s report offers context to these inequalities by providing a history of race and cannabis in the US as well as policy recommendations, academic resources for legislators, and actionable strategies that consumers can implement to advocate for changes within the industry.

Aside from ranking 18 states and the District of Columbia according to social justice, equity, and inclusion (SJEI), The Seeds of Change Report identifies eight distinct SJEI strategies for lawmakers to incorporate within cannabis legislation. States were ranked based on the degree to which they are implementing these eight strategies, which include: a mandate for automatic expungement of cannabis records; safeguarding rights and accessibility for medical patients; allowing reasonably regulated home growing operations; dedicating cannabis tax revenue to healing rather than harm; gathering robust data and sharing it widely; reducing stigma through proactive programs and supporting cannabis career development opportunities.

Findings from the report showed that although 1 in 20 Black Americans holds business equity in any company, Black Americans hold business equity in only 1 in 50 cannabis companies.  It also found that the criminal justice system, historical economic persecution, and healthcare access are the three leading barriers to cannabis opportunity in the US. Of the eight SJEI strategies identified by Leafly, homegrow and medical cannabis programs were the two most popular employed by states where cannabis is legal, though only 53 percent of legal use states are effectively implementing equity-focused licensing initiatives. There is a near-universal deficit in public health resources to help destigmatize cannabis, with 89 percent of legal use states posting low numbers in that regard. 63 percent of legal-use states are not reinvesting into disproportionately harmed communities with their cannabis revenue and/or taxes.  

The highest SJEI strategy rankings go to Colorado, California, Illinois, and New York, while Alaska, Maine, Montana, and South Dakota garnered the four lowest spots. Even given the rampant nature of systemic inequality in the US, Leafly’s numbers are sobering and point to an ongoing need to confront the fact that, according to Seeds of Change author Janessa Bailey, “Black and brown communities continue to pay the highest price for cannabis prohibition.” She is hopeful, though, that the eight SJEI strategies proposed by the report “lay out eight real strategies that any state can include within cannabis legalization to build an industry that is as accessible as it is profitable.”

 

Julie Aitcheson

Julie Aitcheson is a freelance writer who has had articles published in Echo Quarterly, Communities Magazine (formerly Talking Leaves Magazine), Isabella, and All Things Girl. She received a full fellowship to the 2013 Stowe StoryLabs and won second place in the 2014 San Miguel Writers’ Conference nonfiction writing competition. She has published two young adult novels and is currently at work on her next book.


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