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Diversity In Cannabis: Making Sure Everyone Benefits And 'Not Just A Privileged Few'

Andrew Ward

In the cannabis space, diversity is often regarded as a particularly pressing need as a result of the adverse effect of the War on Drugs.

The hurdles are numerous and include the country's private prison system and a lack of capital, according to industry contacts Benzinga spoke with.

Despite the challenges, some do see recent positive activity in the fight to make the employees staffing the growing legal cannabis sector in the U.S. more reflective of the communities that cannabis companies serve.

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The War On Drugs: A Lasting Effect

Harvest Health & Recreation Inc (OTC: HRVSF) CEO Steve White said finding minority candidates can be difficult. The aftershocks from the War on Drugs may be a factor, he said.

"If you were a member of one of those communities, you would be a little hesitant about people running around and saying that there's this great opportunity after you've been disproportionately affected by it."

Despite the sometimes difficult process, White said that having a diverse and inclusive office is worth it.

“If you have more people of color in your organization, you're going to do a better job educating communities of color. You're going to do a better job serving communities of color. It's not just communities of color, but it's also women.”

Khurram Malik, CEO of Toronto-based Biome Grow Inc (CNSX: BIO) points the blame at the U.S. private prison system.

"You can track most of the tough on crime legislation going back to the early '90s as a way to ultimately support the private prison industry. This is why you have this bizarre dynamic of people still incarcerated or carrying records for things that are now perfectly legal."

Sources Of Capital

Raising capital is a concern for aspiring minority cannabis entrepreneurs.

Nick Levich, co-founder of the CBD brand Key To Cannabis, said most companies in the Denver market are owned by white males with access to capital.

"Given the high startup costs associated with obtaining a license and starting a cannabis company, most companies are backed by Wall Street money and angel investors," he said.

"This money is provided by the same people that start businesses in other sectors — they just happen to have jumped into cannabis, the next hypergrowth market."

If the cannabis industry were truly centered around diversity, the rules and regulations for starting cannabis businesses would include provisions for victims of the War on Drugs, the Key to Cannabis co-founder said.

Benzinga's Cannabis Capital Conference heads to Detroit on Aug. 15 — click here to learn more!

Making Good Faith Efforts

Roz McCarthy, founder and CEO of Minorites for Medical Marijuana, said unethical profiting is an issue in the industry — and consumers have taken notice.   

“Consumers are aware that there are investors and wealthy entrepreneurs now profiting off a plant that sent thousands to jail and destroyed their lives by denying them access to federal loans, housing, jobs and more.”

Consumers want to see action, McCarthy said.

“They expect big companies to address this dichotomy through good faith efforts to incorporate those who've been marginalized and criminalized, particularly because of unequal enforcement of prohibition laws.”

Cannabis consumers want ethical choices and smart companies that will create in-depth social equity and social justice plans that ensure everyone benefits from the industry — "not just a privileged few," she said. 

Jay-Z’s partnership with the vertically integrated California brand Caliva is an example of what a diverse team can offer, McCarthy told Benzinga. 

Related Links:

MJ Freeway CEO: 'Every Measure For Diversity Is Good For Business'

Women Execs React To Cannabis Trends Report Highlighting The Rise Of Females In The Marijuana Industry

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