**This post originally appeared in the July 2020 newsletter for Norml Canada which can be read here.
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.