MESSAGE FROM THE NORML CANADA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
The past few months have seen uprisings against police brutality across North America and beyond. To quote the late civil rights leader John Lewis, “We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.“
The war on drugs is inextricably linked to patterns of over-policing of poor, non-white, and/or disabled communities, and the denial of opportunities due to disproportionate enforcement. The second issue of NORML Canada’s newsletter focuses on justice and equity. It begins with an update on the virtual job fair (CanMar Recruitment). It is incumbent upon the cannabis industry to identify and address barriers that largely shut out marginalized groups from the legal market— the racist roots of prohibition must be squarely confronted (Ashley Keenan). There are hundreds of thousands of people burdened with the long-term consequences of cannabis-related convictions (Ish Aderonmu). Finally, an in-depth Q&A with activist Nina Parks underscores the need for equity programs in the Canadian cannabis landscape (Abi Sampson).
As always, sincere gratitude to contributors, as well as those taking the time to read the newsletter. If you are interested in contributing to future issues, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
CanMar Career Day
The first ever Virtual Job Fair organized by CanMar Recruitment was a resounding success. Over 1,000 people preregistered, on top of nearly 500 additional registrations the day of the event. Archived segments can be found here.
Apart from our fantastic participants, we found that our special guest panelists for Diversity & Inclusion and the State of the Industry were very insightful in several avenues to the cannabis industry. Anyone interested in the landscape should definitely watch those conversations on our YouTube page.
The industry is constantly evolving. To that end, advocating for improvements to the system will go a long way for our consumers and business owners.
Silence is violence cannabis, so you better speak up
Being part of the solution means accepting our role in the problem
It has been both refreshing, and infuriating, to watch folks in the cannabis industry dip their toes into racially charged conversations over the past few months. The media shifted focus (briefly) from our regularly scheduled programming to talk about subjects that were a little out of some people’s comfort zone. Watching the conversations unfold between industry peers was difficult, as many chose to argue over semantics rather than listen to more knowledgeable voices.
To be frank, you have no business working in the cannabis industry if you have a weak position on racism or reparations. Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Colour (BIPOC) are disproportionately prosecuted for cannabis related crimes and judged more harshly for their consumption. Familiarize yourself with the racist roots of prohibition—which produced problematic outcomes in the legal industry—and be proactive instead of reactive in conversations on race. While these conversations may feel uncomfortable to some, it is the responsibility of businesses and brands to speak up.
Normalize being wrong
An action, thought, or ideology does not have to be malicious in order to be racist. In order to be good allies, we need to get comfortable with the idea of being wrong. I was raised with little microaggressions that were anti-Black and harmful – regardless of the fact I was oblivious to using them. Bless the Black women who called me out, showed me how to be better, and held me accountable; it wasn’t their responsibility to teach me but they did anyway. The cannabis industry is guilty of this same sin, letting BIPOC carry the burden of educating and advocating for inclusion.
It’s time to normalize being wrong cannabis, learn from it, and do better. If being confronted on bad marketing campaigns, inappropriate opinions, and/or lack of diversity, makes you feel attacked then just imagine how people of colour feel. Instead of getting lost in ‘what was meant’ and defensively asserting ‘good’ intentions – learn to listen. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what the intent was, what matters is the impact words have. It’s ok to acknowledge that as white people we have blind spots when it comes to racism. This isn’t about whether or not you’re a good person, this is about being a radically anti-racist ally.
Cannabis has racist roots
In her popular Medium article, Ika Washington posed a powerful question – Why has the cannabis industry (that often preaches diversity, inclusion, and social justice), stayed oddly silent on the subject of racism and reparations? The reality is the systematic barriers that hold people of colour back, both as professionals and as consumers, aren’t just problems in America.
Those working in Canadian cannabis have the responsibility to familiarize themselves with the social injustices and discrimination surrounding our prohibition era and current legal market. This industry seriously lacks diversity, especially in high level positions. Cannabis consumers are still stigmatized and judged more harshly based on socio-economic status and race. It is trendy and innovative for rich white consumers to enjoy cannabis, while BIPOC and poor folks like myself are judged for doing the same. Adding a token ‘diversity panel’ at a conference filled with mostly male boards and pay-to-play panels is not being inclusive, it’s performative.
Black lives still matter
Cannabis – this is not the time to be silent, your voices are critical. Show your colleagues, consumers, and stakeholders what your company stands for by actively helping to dismantle racist structures in our society. The time of ‘I don’t see colour’ is over, now it’s time for those in the industry to make radical reparations.
Performative activism is tired, so allies need to show up for BIPOC physically and financially when possible. Even when the media buzz is over, the fight isn’t because Black lives still matter. It’s the role of industry leaders to support, speak up, and stand in solidarity with those who are battling racism and injustice every single day.
“How can we comfortably be a part of an industry that continues to exclude us and doesn’t take issue with complicit racist and sexualized advertisements,” exclaims Washington in her article. She’s not wrong, so instead of arguing about the Webster definition of racism and other semantics, we need to use our voices to make the cannabis industry a safe and inclusive place for all.
Ashley Keenan is a respected journalist with bylines in the GrowthOp, Leafly, the Her(B) Life, and more.
Unpacking the Long-Term Impact of Cannabis Convictions
Cannabis criminalization has had long-term, adverse impacts on Canadians, particularly for low income and minority community members. Decades of cannabis prohibition saddled hundreds of thousands of Canadians with criminal convictions for non-violent, cannabis offences. The war on cannabis has hit racialized communities especially hard. Decades of unfair and unequal enforcement of cannabis laws have meant that marginalized and racialized Canadians have been disproportionately burdened by cannabis convictions.
These convictions prevent people from successfully reintegrating into society, volunteering, and finding meaningful employment. It may also prevent many Canadians from participating in the country’s growing legal cannabis economy. Canada has an opportunity to become a world leader by implementing cannabis policies that begin to acknowledge and repair the harm caused by the War on Drugs and the disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition. The time to act is now.
Hiring discrimination against individuals with a police record hurts our communities, rather than keeping them safe. If the goal is to prevent crime, barring employment for people with police records is taking us further from our mark. Improving access to employment can play an important role in creating safer and more thriving communities for us all. Finding employment is quite possibly the largest barrier for individuals with criminal records. There is a strong correlation between employment and crime, and a vicious cycle begins when people with criminal justice involvement are denied work opportunities.
Police records can negatively affect all areas of a person’s life, indefinitely. Certain types of information contained within a police record can impact travel across the U.S. border, housing, employment, volunteering, adoption, foster care, immigration, and citizenship. Having a police record can also impact people on a personal level. It can negatively affect their self-esteem and how they view themselves. Our society frequently uses stigmatizing language to describe people who have police records. According to the John Howard Society of Ontario, labelling a person and defining them based on their past actions is counterproductive to community safety. Even people who are trying to improve their lives often face discrimination and judgment. Employers, volunteer organizations, and other institutions that require people to undergo police record checks often assume that if someone has a police record, they are a dangerous or unreliable person.
We must identify ways to eliminate barriers to entering the legal cannabis market for those individuals and communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. One way to do that is by identifying individuals with past cannabis arrests and/or convictions, and those that were low income and lived in disproportionately impacted communities and experienced the brunt of societal harms associated with cannabis criminalization. We need policies to support people impacted by the War on Drugs and seek to reduce barriers to entering the legal cannabis industry by providing programs to support business ownership and employment opportunities.
The John Howard Society of Ontario argues that having meaningful employment, stable housing, and the positive social networks that come with employment prevents people from offending in the future. Society should encourage, not prevent, people from finding employment, housing, or schooling. It means healthier and safer communities for all.
The City of Los Angeles is attempting to address the impacts of past cannabis policies and their inequities by developing and implementing cannabis policies that seek to center equity in cannabis policy reform. As the lead agency for licensing and regulating cannabis in the City of Los Angeles, the Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) is responsible for implementing the Social Equity Program.
The expedited pardon process introduced by the Federal government is a start, but only a fraction of Canadians with cannabis=related convictions are eligible to apply, with even fewer people successfully availing themselves of the opportunity. If our political leaders are serious about righting past wrongs, they should consider expanding the availability of pardons or, better yet, move to expunge all non-violent cannabis offences.
Ish Aderonmu is a Board Member at John Howard Society and 2020 DiverseCity Fellow.
The Need for Equity Programs in the Canadian Cannabis Landscape
Righting wrongs of cannabis prohibition and creating a fair, just and equitable industry
Cannabis prohibition is deeply rooted in racism, with Black and Indigenous populations disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization to this day. As the legal cannabis space thrives in Canada, there is a glaring lack of diversity, representation and equity within the industry. I recently sat down with Nina Parks, cannabis advocate, entrepreneur and Madam Chair of the San Francisco Cannabis Oversight Committee, to discuss cannabis social equity programs, and how Canada can begin to spearhead these conversations to move towards a more equitable and just cannabis industry.
Describe cannabis social equity programs – what do they offer, who do they serve, what is the purpose/goal of these programs?
Cannabis social equity programs are meant to be a restorative-justice based policy, with the goal of healing harms and creating ways for opportunities in the cannabis space for those disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. While places like Illinois and Massachusetts are pushing for State-wide equity programs, in California, cities were the ones that innovated the creation of equity programs with the state support developed later. In all cases, it’s up to the local municipalities to create and manage the success of this program.
Social equity programs provide priority pathways to permitting and licensure for those who qualify. The point is to give people who were disadvantaged by Draconian Prohibition laws a head start. Activists have also fought for Technical Assistance support and access to small business development services to help Qualified Equity Applicants navigate the new realtor structures. In Oakland and San Francisco, we have fought for grants and low- or no-interest loans to businesses.
In order to qualify equity permit applicants must live in the city, earn less than 80 percent of the average city income, and meet one of two requirements related either to living in a heavily policed area or being personally convicted or have a close family member (parent, sibling) convicted of a cannabis crime in the last 20 years.
While things look good on paper, the ability for us to see the desired outcomes manifest takes a lot of human work and interaction.
The introduction of the cannabis social equity programs happened on the background of the first BLM movement – that was literally what was going on outside of the legislative office, in the streets when these conversations were happening. Now, we’re still fighting for continued support.
What was your involvement in spearheading/implementing these changes?
In comparison to other folks in the cannabis space, I’m a baby. I’m an OG in the cannabis equity fight, but if cannabis advocacy is equivalent to our educational system, I’m just starting high school. CA already had a 20 year medical cannabis industry by the time I stepped into the arena. When Proposition 64 was introduced, there was a loud call for legalization. Advocates used our (people of colours’) stories to sell the idea of this plant at conferences and events, crying “our Black brothers and sisters are locked up in jail!”, meanwhile, there would not be a single person of colour on the stage or panel.
So I just started showing up at these events and calling them out. During Q&A, I would raise my hand and say “Hi, so I’m a POC in the cannabis industry, I have a delivery service. Do you guys feel…alright saying those things when you don’t have one POC on stage? Who are you helping?” Then I became semi-problematic, but other POC in the room would approach me afterwards, agreeing. Then we’d all start banning together and saying those things collectively and after a lot of hard work and noise, we ended up with an equity program.
Now we’re here two years later and still trying to figure out how to make it work, so the work isn’t done-done: we need to think of these policies as living documents and processes. Right now we’re in the thick of it, and we have had enough wins and we have the highest numbers of BIPOC business operators in Oakland and SF so we know that it can make meaningful impacts. As regulations evolve, we continue to build on the program. We created the ordinance, but we’re still figuring out where to navigate. Everything is a social experiment when it comes to democracy, that’s why they call it the great social experiment.
Who were some stakeholders/organizations that collaborated/joined in on this effort?
We were able to organize small and mid-size business owners to still fight for a space in the current industry – folks who had delivery services, brands, manufacturing, distribution etc, that recognized that the new law language would knock them out. There were a lot more POC business owners pre-legalization but we see more people coming online as the days pass. Eventually, some of the big guys slowly turned to allies, but trust building with them is so important. And of course there were the old hippy growers and allies who have been growing for decades and didn’t want corporate cannabis to happen. Proposition 64 was a corporate takeover of cannabis, and the equity program was our hail mary chance to make sure we still had some space.
Were you met with resistance? From/by who?
There was some resistance from larger cannabis players, but surprisingly, we also got push back from small business types in the community who were like “I didn’t get any help”. Conversations around social equity brings up a lot of interesting emotions, you really see peoples’ entitlement.
Recently on Twitter, you said “cannabis justice > cannabis equity” can you please expand on this?
I want to make clear that I am echoing the concepts of the youth advocates and artists from the Bay area particularly Stunnaman02 and Gunnaman. Young advocates have been really stepping up a lot and I feel emotional about it because this work is hard and to see young folks, and damn, they get it, and they still carry the heart of SF with them. We see people die because of cannabis criminalization, it’s not just in newspapers, it’s real shit. For the young people to have this understanding of what cannabis justice VS cannabis equity is – there is a difference. Justice equals healing: addressing the wrongs that were done and making amends, being accountable. Equity, just trying to throw money at shit – that’s not it. These young folks get it, and they’re calling for it. I want to be able to respond in kind and say yes, that’s what we’re focusing on. This is why we want to get mental health grants and other community supports through the program, because that would be a part of the justice, instead of just the equity. I don’t know if you’ve ever been locked up, harassed by police since you were a kid or had to live with family members that have and navigate those experiences, but it can really leave your heart, mind and spirit in a fucked up state. And even though we are resilient that does not mean that we don’t need support and healing.
Do you have any advice for folks in the cannabis industry who want to advocate for the implementation of cannabis equity/justice frameworks in Canada?
First of all – make noise, take up space. Be researched in making the noise, make sure your noise has an narrative, but be loud about it.
And second, find champions in the positions of power you are able to work with. While the legislators are there, lean on certain legislative aides, and make friends with everyone in the office, including the person at the front office, because they are the ones who set up the schedules.
There is such a wide conversation about race, social class, political will, political power structures and economic constructs of our civil societies that needs to happen when talking about cannabis equity and cannabis justice.
I would best describe it like a venn diagram, with justice thru cannabis in the centre and then the other circles would represent education, criminal justice reform, healthcare, environmentalism, racial justice – all of them touch cannabis, so if one works in the cannabis industry and is fully aligned with the magic of the plant, they need to fight for cannabis justice.
What’s up/next for Nina: Is there anything you’re working on you want to highlight or celebrate?
Gift of Doja this is the brand I’m developing in the industry – it took a village of folks who were down to roll – this is a testament to the past 5 years of heartbreak, healing and hard work
Also the Equity Trade Certification is something I have been working on with the Original Equity Group and Supernova Women. We are invested increating our networks and supply chains and not just being some ad hoc group of some industry association that tokenizes our presence.
Nina Parks can be found on Instagram and Twitter:
Abi Sampson is a Board Member at NICHE Canada and past Executive Director of NORML Canada.