It’s not a secret that the cannabis industry is owned primarily by Caucasian men and women. Although provisions are in place across the country to encourage racial inclusivity within the industry, the Black Lives Matter movement has shined a glaring light on the issue of racial profiling across all business sectors. In an industry as new to the game as cannabis, setting guidelines for an equal playing field, from the get-go, is crucial to continued success.
For Khadijah Tribble, a Harvard-educated, cannabis industry inclusivity activist, the Black Lives Matter movement holds the key to equality in the legal cannabis space. Tribble sees the results of Black Lives Matter as indicative of America’s business model and what kind of people and businesses are seen as “taboo.”
“I think the BLM movement has put [the legal cannabis industry] on notice,” Tribble said. “People have had enough. In the cannabis industry, it gives us an opportunity to look at another avenue to do good. This is an opportunity for us to work with the community to say we hear you, we see you and we’re going to respond accordingly.”
Tribble currently works for a company called Curaleaf, one of America’s premier multi-state cannabis players. She is VP of corporate social responsibility and thus is in charge of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at the company’s Massachusetts headquarters. She views the struggle for federal cannabis legalization as akin to the racial tensions within big business hierarchy; Tribble views her position as a springboard to a diversified industry and is focused on the addition of a diversity and equity task force.
"I’m happy to say that more than 50 plus people on our team want to step up and say they want to be part of this,” she said. “A lot of people don’t necessarily appreciate what I consider to be an important thing to pivot or expand a culture to be inclusive. We didn’t get into this space overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it overnight. You must create systems that disrupt the negative systems. You have to have something to replace it with.”
For Tribble, and so many others trying to break into the industry on a smaller scale, inclusion in this new cannabis space goes beyond a hashtag on social media or a federal drug status.
“I’ve always believed and continue to believe that cannabis movement needs to make racial justice an integral part of all that we do,” Steve DeAngelo, owner of Oakland, CA’s flagship cannabis dispensary, Harborside, said. “We have a debt of history we need to honor and need to pay. This industry would not exist without the efforts of generations of African Americans, who were the first people to bring cannabis to North America. Its passage from Black jazz musicians to white fans was one of the vectors to [the] rest of America. Cannabis is a gift of the African American community to the rest of the country.”
“One of the things that has been missed and misunderstood for African Americans and Latinos like ourselves is that we are the first of our family to go to college and have a generation of success,” Tribble said. “It’s a risk to enter an industry that’s still federally illegal. Some people can afford to take the risk because they have generational wealth. But if you’re the first person in your family to gain financial independence, then perhaps you’re not willing to risk that because the risk is too great.”
As DeAngelo alluded to, the BLM movement and cannabis are irrevocably connected, whether it be in unequal access to funds and retail space or the statistics behind cannabis-related incarceration and the War on Drugs. Any win for Black lives, women, or LGBTQ+ lives is a win for diversifying the cannabis industry.
“Anytime that you have an industry that is headed and influenced by any group of people—in this case, it’s white, male and predominantly straight—there are some unconscious biases happening, and then there’s some intentional things happening in the industry that makes it more difficult for women,” Tribble said.
“Anytime you add race and sexuality to someone’s identity, you’re adding more difficult and layered challenges because folks don’t often have the opportunities. If people who invest in cannabis all hang out in the same spaces and they all look alike and came from the same school, and those conversations aren’t inclusive of people of color, women, and people who are queer, then we create these systems that are white male heterosexual-centered. You just need to look at the numbers to support [this].”
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