How we could improve social equity in cannabis

Published Nov 18, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Evelien Doosje

In 2019 the cannabis industry created more than 33,000 new jobs in the United States alone, and those jobs have a median salary that is 10.7 percent higher than the national average. The black community and people of colour, however, are regularly shut out of this industry. These communities are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement for consuming, possessing, and selling marijuana. The cannabis industry is out of reach for many, and as such, loud calls are being sounded for more social equity within the marijuana space.

What is equity in this case?

You may ask what equity is in this instance, and perhaps a better-understood word could be fairness. However, you like to name it, the definition of social equity depends on the content, and it can vary. Social equity in cannabis ultimately boils down to fairness and justice in public policy.


Social equity in the cannabis industry centers around the inclusion or lack of inclusion within communities made up of people of colour. This community sector must be included and involved in every aspect of the marijuana industry, from cultivation to consulting.

Although far from perfect, some cities are doing the right thing by creating social equity laws in hopes of levelling out the business landscape for all. Others are not as patient and are taking things into their own hands.

Some Black-owned cannabis businesses are working hard in the social equity area. Black-owned marijuana brands are growing in stature and numbers. Some of these companies are including social equity into their business plans.

Simply Pure

Owned and operated by military veterans Scott Durrah and Wanda James, Simply Pure is one of Colorado's first dispensaries and the first Black-owned dispensary in the state. The company was started to provide healthy and safe edibles. The company is selling its line of CBD products for consumers on-line.

DC Holistic Wellness

Known also as Cannablis, this is the first Black-owned dispensary in the capital. A former professional basket player Norbert Pickett began using medical cannabis to manage pain after a car accident. He hopes his dispensary, which is located in an old liquor store in a historically-low income in a predominantly black neighbourhood, will help the community heal from the horrific damage done by the trauma left by the war on drugs. He hires mostly locals.



NBA player, Al Harrington, founded this Los Angeles company. In 2020 he announced the creation of Viola Cares. This creation is the company’s social equity initiative. One of the first tasks for the company will be to help people who are going to re-enter society following incarceration.

Keep moving forward

It is abundantly clear that Black ownership is the key to creating an equitable marijuana industry. However, it must not stop there. More groups are needed to step forward and ensure that the future of marijuana is just and fair.


This group is solely created to address how marginalized cannabis consumers are portrayed in packaging and advertising brands within the industry. The group maintains a database that includes marijuana businesses that are owned by members of marginalized communities. The company's Accountability List was recently created to help hemp and cannabis companies follow through with commitments around diversity and justice in the cannabis industry.

Final words

As a matter of societal and moral principle, social equity must be a firm and a definite hallmark of the cannabis industry today and moving forward. As the industry grows in size, it is paramount that we are constantly reminded about previous policies and laws. These laws and policies were under the guise of what was commonly referred to as drug reform. However, these policies have harmed marginalized communities in the United States of America.

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