This article by Robert Hoban was originally published on Forbes and appears here with permission.
What happens when a movement becomes an industry? That’s precisely what’s playing out every day in the commercial regulated cannabis market. It’s important to consider how the cannabis industry has a more profound burden and responsibility to social equity than other industries.
It’s no secret that the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately and adversely impacted people of color. To counter this, many states and cities have implemented social equity programs in connection with the legalization of medical or adult-use cannabis. Social equity deals with justice and fairness within social policy. These programs attempt to ensure that people of color, and those with marijuana offenses prior to legalization, be afforded an opportunity to participate, meaningfully, in this burgeoning industry.
The first regulated cannabis states, including Colorado, have only recently taken action on this front. Their programs have had limited success, and as an industry, we’re looking for ways to craft better public policy by surveying the results in other jurisdictions, both nationally and globally. Many problems remain with the implementation of these programs.
Take the requirement in most early legal marijuana states that commercial cannabis growers get “married” to cannabis retailers. It’s often said that “plant people” (growers) and “people people” (sellers) do not mix. This led to tremendous disagreements and lawsuits. California’s marijuana social equity program have shown similar traits, including the “use” of people of color to obtain a license, but then have no meaningful participation. This is fertile ground for corruption and unequal treatment of individuals. Can it work? Only time will tell.
The demand for social equity is currently very high in the industry and has been heightened by recent events: the mobilization of the Black Lives Matter movement, nationwide protests against police brutality, and the like. Numerous large cannabis companies are now talking about “reinvesting in communities” and “social equity,” but it remains to be seen whether they will put their money where their mouth is.
Despite living in one of the less diverse places in the United States, the Hoban Law Group implemented social equity programs in cannabis before they were popular — by offering minority-owned businesses opportunities, advancing minority employees, and sharing stage time with less-advantaged people of color as I spoke around the world.
We recognize that we must do more. We created an Diversity and Inclusion Committee dedicated to advocating for Black, People of Color and LGBTQ employment candidates, clients, and employees. The intention of this committee is to challenge us and help us address the injustices each of us witnesses every day. Our entire staff will receive unconscious bias training for our entire staff, managers, and executive team. The submitted candidate pool for posted openings at HLG has been far less than diverse. While we can’t control that fact directly, we can …