Whitewashed: Canada’s Legal Weed Industry Has a Diversity Problem

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“Whitewashed” Canada’s legal weed industry has a diversity problem

Scanning through images of the top brass at Canada’s legal medical cannabis industry reveals a sea of white.

Almost all 45 of the federally licensed producers (LPs) are run by white men. They’re currently the only businesses legally allowed to cultivate and sell the product, and only for those with medical prescriptions. And they’re the companies that will continue to lead the recreational market, which the government plans to implement by next year.

VICE News asked every LP for detailed diversity information about their executive boards and senior management, and any inclusion initiatives currently in place. Of the companies that responded, representing 20 LPs, two said their executives include people from visible minorities, for a total of six people. Others pointed to their senior management teams, some of which comprise more than 50 percent women.

The overrepresentation of white leadership is not exclusive to the cannabis business world, although Canadian statistics on the issue in general are scant. A 2016 report on corporate governance found that things have been improving in the country in recent years, with almost three in five organizations including a member of a visible minority on their boards, a 20 percent jump from 2015.

But the weed business is different because it has its roots in an illicit market, one targeted by laws that have been disproportionately applied to people of colour and minorities. For those fighting for equal opportunities in the future legal regime, the lack of diversity at the helm shows how corporate and government structures continue to favour a privileged few.

“If we’re looking at the medical model as our crystal ball for what’s in store, the green rush has been pretty whitewashed,” said Jenna Valleriani, who researches addiction at the University of Toronto and also advises the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Valleriani, who researched Canadian cannabis companies for her doctoral thesis, is disappointed that the country’s policymakers aren’t talking about how to bring those who have worked in the illegal cannabis markets into the regulated fold.

At a time when the industry is at a crossroads, she and other drug policy experts are calling on the government, and cannabis companies themselves, to pursue measures that seek to repair the harms caused by drug prohibitions, which have long been criticized for having racist outcomes.

While most of the licensed producers who responded to VICE News spoke in broad terms about boosting diversity in the workplace, none provided written company policy to that effect. Although Aurora said it had begun developing an LGBTQ2+ Committee.

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