When the coronavirus hit California, cannabis was declared an ‘essential business’. So how come so many black and brown people are still in prison on cannabis-related charges?
That is the question Kassia Graham and other BIPOC leaders in the cannabis world have. Graham leads day-to-day operations at Cannabis for Black Lives, a new coalition of companies committed to elevating Black-led organizations and causes in the cannabis world.
Graham, along with much of the rest of the leadership team, works at Cannaclusive, a national organization fighting for a more diverse and fair representation of minority cannabis consumers. In the two years since California legalized recreational marijuana, three separate social equality programs are founded in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco, and a handful of community organizations have raised funds and generated educational and technical resources for BIPOC entrepreneurs. However, Graham (who uses she/she pronouns) says this summer’s nationwide racial justice uprisings reminded them that the cannabis industry needed to do a lot more for black people immediately.
“While George” [Floyd]His life left his body, former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao was heard mockingly say, ‘This is why you don’t do drugs, kids,’ explains Graham. They argue that black liberation is closely tied to a more equitable cannabis policy, and that Thao’s ugly joke is just further proof that the War on Drugs is indirectly responsible for George Floyd’s death. “The inclusive and equitable industry we see can be won, but only if we start supporting black, indigenous and other people of color in space – and their communities – now.”
The activities of Cannabis for Black Lives will be divided into three isolated categories: recruitment, reinforcement and donations. While recruiting initiatives aim to increase BIPOC representation at the participating companies, reinforcement and donation initiatives work together to increase support for an organization elected at the discretion of the board on a bimonthly basis. In addition to giving some of their own revenue to these community organizations, companies encourage their customers to contribute by sharing the fundraising campaigns through their own channels, such as email blasts, Instagram posts, and physical marketing materials.
The coalition is led by a 100 percent Black and Latinx board and has brought together businesses nationwide, ranging from the massive delivery company Eaze to smaller, regional suppliers. Twenty companies have already committed and Mary Pryor, founder of Cannaclusive, leads the board. The leadership team promises that unlike other campaigns, companies that join Cannabis for Black Lives will not be able to pick and choose which initiatives are right for them. PR needs. Accountability is at the heart of the Cannabis for Black Lives mission.
“They have to attend a meeting every month and make sure someone from BIPOC is on their team,” said Bianca Monica, CEO and co-founder of the female-led full-service creative agency Limone Creative, who brings her marketing expertise to the board. to help bolster non-profit campaigns. Companies must also demonstrate that 33 percent of their workforce is BIPOC, that they promote black and brown voices in the cannabis industry 10 times a month on their brand’s social media pages, and that they can meet the minimum annual donation thresholds that are set. by the size of their company. “It’s not an initiative where people can come and go as they please,” says Monica.
The coalition’s first partner organization is Oakland-based Supernova Women, a women of color-led nonprofit that aims to “enable people of color to become self-sustainable shareholders in the cannabis industry,” according to their website. The nonprofit’s activities range from educational events for aspiring entrepreneurs to legislative activism — their organization even partnered with the City of Oakland to launch the first national cannabis social equality program for entrepreneurs affected by the War on Drugs, and has recently helped lower taxes on cannabis in the city for social justice and small businesses.
“We are the largest group of entrepreneurs and the most underfunded,” Senter says of black women in the industry. “In a typical landscape, people want to invest in people who are like them, and most of the time it’s white men who invest in other white men. Being black and being a woman is definitely not in one of those buckets,” she says. For this reason, Supernova Women often prioritizes helping business owners access capital through investment workshops and their own fundraising, especially when a crisis occurs.
Now Supernova Women is promoting their Cannabis Equity Relief Fund, or “CERF”, for those hardest hit by a series of organized robberies that coincided with the biggest protests in June and July.
“Basically, all the money we get, we turn around and give grants to those operators,” said Amber Senter, co-founder and executive director of Supernova Women’s. Coalition members have already pledged several thousand dollars, although the total fundraising effort has not yet been released.
Senter says cannabis communities in the East Bay have been hit particularly hard, likely due to their proximity to cannabis businesses and the near-universal knowledge that Oakland police are hard to reach on the night of major protests. She also feels cannabis businesses could be neglected by authorities because: police were not formally retrained after the end of the ban, and that there is still poor communication between cannabis professionals and the police. In fact, she completely moved the product of her distribution company, Breeze Distro, out of the Bay Area during the protests. “It was everyone in the whole supply chain that was affected: the pharmacies, the manufacturers, the growers – it was like ‘no mercy,'” she says. “I wouldn’t take any chances.”
San Francisco-based pre-roll company Space Coyote was familiar with this problem — in fact, both manufacturing companies they work with were hit by burglars, although they personally suffered no product losses. A representative of Space Coyote, a white company, says the coalition is an opportunity for them to stand behind BIPOC movers and shakers in a definitively productive way.
“If you’re just walking down the street smoking a joint, a lot of black people are in jail for doing the same thing as you,” said Space Coyote’s director of marketing Teagan Thompson. “If there are companies that take advantage of a factory that is armed against these communities, we have a moral obligation,” she says.
Newly launched, many of Cannabis for Black Lives’ future initiatives are yet to be seen. But for Kassia Graham, the future looks bright.
“Partner organizations such as Supernova Women will see lasting impact from funds received and relationships built through Cannabis for Black Lives,” Graham said. In addition, Graham believes Cannabis for Black Lives will generate a “more inclusive offering from employees, contractors, distributors, suppliers, representation of BIPOC and more” among participating companies, and “more informed member organizations that are serious about supporting BIPOC in hemp.”