Article by Angela Stelmakowich, Regina Leader-Post
A new policy brief confirms what comics from Sara Silverman to home-grown weed hero Seth Rogen have said for years: Canada’s legal cannabis industry is headed by white males and could be made fairer and better by adding diversity.
Speaking about the cannabis industry from a North American perspective, Silverman took part in comedy show earlier this year to raise money for efforts to achieve gender parity in the sector. With comedy as her foghorn, she noted “white males should not have a monopoly on the cannabis space” and that women must have a much stronger voice and role.
The disparities and lack of representation seen south of the border seem reflected here at home. Indeed, the industry doesn’t look like the country at all, notes the policy brief penned by the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation (CDPE) and the University of Toronto.
The brief offers a telling snapshot of the legal weed industry, covering 700 executives and directors across 222 organizations, according to a statement from CDPE. It looked at “the race and gender of all C-level executives and boards of directors of licensed cannabis producers and their parent companies operating in Canada.”
Big picture, 84 per cent of cannabis industry leaders are white and 86 per cent are male, not leaving much room for others who make up multicultural Canada.
“Our analysis shows that Black and Indigenous people, and women, are vastly underrepresented in leadership positions in the Canadian cannabis industry, when compared to their representation in the general population,” notes the brief. “Conversely, white men are over-represented.”
But it is not solely the aforementioned peoples who are woefully underrepresented in the legal cannabis industry. Beyond the 84 per cent of leaders who are white, just six per cent are South Asian, three per cent are East and Southeast Asian, two per cent are Indigenous (the majority of these individuals are from the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs, who own a 51 per cent stake in licensed producer AtlantiCann), two per cent are Arab, one per cent are Black and one per cent are Latinx. “As Canada approaches the two-year anniversary of nationally regulating recreational cannabis production and sales, this analysis shows that much work remains to achieve a diverse legal cannabis industry,” Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor at U of T and senior author of the brief, says in the CDPE statement.
It is not that legalization has been a failure, Owusu-Bempah notes, but that the current state of affairs offers an opportunity to “meet the moment” and improve. “Only then can we begin rectifying the injustices experienced by racialized groups disproportionately targeted and punished under cannabis prohibition.”
If one of the goals of legalization was to help “rectify the injustices experienced by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour)under cannabis prohibition,” that promise has not been fulfilled, the brief suggests.
“Without proactive efforts to include and prioritize racialized groups and women, we can expect the same forces to create inequitable and exclusionary legal cannabis industries,” Tahira Rehmatullah, president of T3 Ventures, who was not involved in the project, adds in the CDPE statement.
To avoid more of the same and address the under-representation of racialized groups and women, that is where the governments at the federal, provincial and municipal levels come in.
“There is a notable absence of government regulation and adoption of programs that would structurally address the under-representation of racialized groups that were disproportionately targeted and punished under prohibition,” notes the brief.
All governments “should adopt social equity programs that provide targeted avenues of entry into the cannabis industry, and provide related business and financial support for members of underrepresented groups,” it adds, citing as examples programs instituted in California, Massachusetts and Illinois.
In Massachusetts, for example, the state’s social equity program “focuses on those most impacted by the War on Drugs, marijuana prohibition, disproportionate arrests and incarceration, and provides education and entry across four areas: entrepreneurship, entry- and managerial-level workforce development and ancillary business support.”
That said, the program has been slow to help get people of colour up and running in the industry. “In fact, the state’s first adult-use store with social equity owners didn’t open its doors until January,” Marijuana Business Daily reported in July.
In March, according to Politico, some state and local officials were pointing the finger at the “state’s complex system of local ‘host community agreements’ for sabotaging the licensing process and putting the entire diversity program at risk.”
The Canadian policy brief further recommends tax revenue from legal cannabis sales be used to support creating social equity programs, and that industry players “recognize the value in diversifying the racial and gender makeup of executives and directors, and adopt strategies to achieve such diversification.”
Beyond participation in the legal cannabis industry, though, the brief makes clear that “laws criminalizing cannabis possession for personal use have had a disproportionate negative impact on Black, Indigenous and people of colour in Canada.” Black and Indigenous populations are substantially over-represented in cannabis possession arrests across the country.