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Last updated on 13 July 2021

What is the Equity First Initiative?

The Equity First Initiative is an organisation whose mission surrounds transformative justice and healing communities impacted by the War on Drugs. They advocate for equity, justice, and repair in the cannabis industry. Furthermore, they coordinate between organizations working on those issues across the U.S.

They achieve their goal by advancing equity and corporate social responsibility in the cannabis industry and by providing education, opportunities for healing, and community building initiatives for different communities and minorities.

The Equity First Initiative relies heavily on donations from supporters who choose to donate either their money and time. The initiative highly promotes education and the spread of accurate information regarding cannabis. They urge all their supporters to contact their representatives and politicians and participate in local, state, and national lobbying efforts for cannabis reform.

The Hemppedia team is also committed to educating the general public about the use of Cannabis, and CBD in particular. There is still a lot of confusion between the different cannabis compounds and mainly the difference between CBD and THC and their legality. Our comprehensive guide on the legality of CBD and cannabis product in the United States aims to provide clarity of this complicated subject.

How to safely consume cannabis products should be something all cannabis advocates educate about. Hemppedia’s guide on how to correctly dose CBD has been created exactly with this in mind.

The alliance

The Equity First Initiative is affiliated with other organizations with a common or same goal.

These include:

  • AACE (Asian Americans for Cannabis Education)
    Asian Americans for Cannabis Education (AACE) joins and allows Asian communities to educate the public of cannabis issues, news, and policy affecting Asians worldwide.
  • CAGE-FREE CANNABIS
    Cage-Free Cannabis is a Benefit corporation based in Los Angeles. It helps the cannabis industry repair harms of the War on drugs
  • CAGE-FREE REPAIR
    Cage- Free Repair is a non-profit project, financially sponsored by Social Good Fund, that supports equity, justice and repair in the cannabis industry.
  • CHICAGO NORML
    The Chicago chapter supports this mission and, strives specifically to educate and motivate communities of color to destigmatize and accept the cannabis plant as a vehicle for health & wellness, political, and economic empowerment.
  • CRISTINA BUCCOLA COUNSEL PLLC
    Cristina Buccola Counsel PLLC is maintained by cannabis and hemp companies, lifestyle and wellness entrepreneurs, media outlets, investors, and artists to instruct on M&A matters and investment opportunities, to create brand protection and licensing programs, to develop strategic ventures, and to manage everyday legal needs. She also assists cannabis and hemp producers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, and applicants in handling the legal licensing, regulatory, and operational challenges that come in the way.
  • HUMBLE BLOOM
    At Humble Bloom they collaboratively curate the culture of cannabis, breaking stigma, raise brands with honesty, forging partnerships with thought leaders and experts, who provide consultative support to civilize growing brands and bring diverse communities through plant education together, advocacy and inclusive immersive experiences.
  • LA METROPOLITAN CHURCHES
    The Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches is a network consisting of 45 African American congregations that stretch Los Angeles County. The organization has existed since 1994 to inform people about hopelessness and despair in the African American community. The aim of the organization is to build the quantity of clergy, lay, and community leaders to renovate their communities.
  • THE LOS ANGELES REGIONAL REENTRY PARTNERSHIP (LARRP)
    LARRP is a network of public, community and based on faith agencies and advocates cooperating to assure that the reentry systems fulfil the needs of their agencies, communities, and the people who they serve, in terms of capacity and public policy.

An Open Letter About Equity and Justice in Cannabis by The Equity First Alliance

We are organizers who work at the intersection of the cannabis industry, racial equity, and reparative justice. We come from a diverse range of communities across the United States, and we write to demand recognition and support in a time of moral crisis in this field.

In the face of unfolding inequities, built upon a decades-long, racist War on Drugs, an informal network of organizers and advocates has been agitating for change. We do this work out of love and necessity, but we are largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work. Cannabis organizers tend to be, unsurprisingly, women of color, many of whom have been directly impacted by the War on Drugs.
We lack funding and basic infrastructure, yet we have to negotiate directly with both multi-million dollar corporations and policymakers.
This letter lays out our concerns, our needs, our analysis of the landscape, and our solutions.

IS LEGALIZATION LIVING UP TO ITS NAME?

While thousands of people remain in prison and jail for cannabis convictions, American cannabis companies are going public through the Canadian stock market and receiving billion dollar valuations.
In 2016, 653,249 people were arrested in the United States on cannabis-related charges – meaning that even as legalization sweeps the nation, over half a million people are still losing their liberty, access to education, access to housing, and access to future employment, every year.1

While magazine covers advertise the medicinal benefits of this plant, hundreds of thousands of low-income people are denied safe access to it in states that have already “legalized.” This unjust situation is compounded by the failure of city and government officials to implement and fund equitable and reparative cannabis policy. In Los Angeles, now the largest recreational cannabis market in the world, hundreds of thousands of cannabis-related convictions have yet to be expunged,2 and the County Board of Supervisors has yet to pass a cannabis policy framework, but they’re moving forward with a $3.5 billion jail construction plan. These decisions limit access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits, and they create an unnecessary lack of skilled workers.

In Colorado, young people of color have been arrested at higher rates for cannabis possession since legalization happened, even though cannabis usage itself has not increased, and arrest rates for young white people have declined3. California is already targeting communities of color through impaired driving laws,4 and the state is not providing working class and low-income communities of color places to legally consume cannabis without risking a citation, eviction, or other forms of continued criminalization.

Meanwhile, a cannabis company based in Los Angeles achieved “unicorn” status, by receiving the first billion dollar valuation in the industry,5 the day before they backed out of an expungement clinic at LA Trade-Technical College. That same company has since opened a storefront on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, where the mayor of New York City recently declared that cannabis consumption will be legal only for people without convictions on their record6. The same company is also advocating against the right to cultivate cannabis in one’s own home in the state of New York. Neither the industry nor the policymakers can be trusted to deliver equitable cannabis policy.

WHO PROFITS FROM CANNABIS?

While people of color (POC) have been disproportionately harmed by the prohibition of cannabis for decades, they are overwhelmingly underrepresented in the industry. Estimates of POC business ownership in the cannabis industry range from ownership of 1-2% of businesses[vii] to 19%,7 but even the latter is outrageously low, given that Black people have been 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people8. Those statistics themselves are skewed because the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports do not track data by ethnicity, which means that arrests of Latinx people are often mis-categorized as arrests of white people9.
On the other hand, people of color remain the backbone of labor in the cannabis industry throughout the US, preliminary research shows.

Increasingly, the cannabis workforce includes undocumented workers recruited to cultivate and manufacture in New York and California, and they bear significant risk of deportation in the current climate. Despite a long-term presence building the cannabis industry before legalization, people of color in cannabis are rarely rewarded with substantial wages, worker protections, healthcare, a voice at work, or, most of all, a share in profits and ownership for having that knowledge and professional expertise.

The 2018 Senate Farm Bill contains language, written by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that would legalize hemp at the federal level, but it would bar people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry. In Pennsylvania, prior cannabis convictions prevent people from joining the medical cannabis workforce. In Illinois, those same convictions have been preventing people from becoming cannabis patients. Given the racial bias in the criminal justice system, these provisions disproportionately harm people of color yet again. We support the rights of all formerly incarcerated people to have a reasonable chance to work in, and benefit from, this industry.

While states like Colorado and Washington decided to exclude people with cannabis felonies at the onset of their legalization, courageous cities like Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, as well as the state of Massachusetts, have decided to make restorative justice and economic healing a priority through the creation of “Social Equity Programs”10. The success of these programs, however, depends on factors beyond attaining a license. If the goal of equity programs is to repair the harms and reverse the trends caused by cannabis prohibition, they will require significant wraparound services. Instead, these programs are suffering from delays and lack of funding, and social equity applicants are suffering11 ,12,13.

WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?

The success of all Equity Programs will be measured by how many Equity-Operated Businesses are thriving 3-5 years from now. Like all traditional start up businesses, equity business owners need education around compliance, capital acquisition, business planning, ongoing business consulting, corporate formation assistance, and personal finance management.

But our definition of equity should not be limited to licensure. Success will also be measured by the number of people of color in the management and employee leadership of cannabis businesses, and the ways in which the cannabis industry provides high-mobility, living wage jobs and new pathways to health, wealth, and wellness for communities of color.
Many community-based organizing groups in affected communities are interested in being part of the conversation on equity in cannabis, but they lack the time, information, and resources to fully participate. Cannabis organizers, on the other hand, are working hard to reach these organizations and communities, but we are stretched to the limits and need support to create the spaces where community, industry, and policymakers can dialogue.

WE ARE ADVOCATING FOR:

Earmarking of cannabis tax revenue for communities directly and disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition (as indicated by Proposition 64 in California and various equity policies nationwide).
Community-based organizations to receive the bulk of that tax revenue, in proportion to that impact.

Job training, worker protections, healthcare, living wages, unionization, worker-owned businesses, and other business development programs in the primary and ancillary cannabis industries.

Social Equity Programs at local, state, and federal levels that offer prioritized licensing, business assistance, and mentorship to people who have been directly impacted by cannabis prohibition.

Annual audits of Social Equity Programs to ensure that they are benefiting equity applicants and not exposing them to predatory relationships
Annual tracking and reporting of cannabis arrests, infractions, and other forms of enforcement.

Education for communities of color about the health, wellness, and economic impacts of the cannabis plant and the cannabis industry.
Corporate social responsibility requirements for businesses that profit off of the cannabis industry.

Automatic expungement, post-conviction relief, and other aspects of criminal justice and policing reform.

Emergency assistance for small farmers of color.

Research and Development facilities that are POC-focused and POC-led, which fight the stigma and perception in communities of color.

Access to jobs and ownership in the cannabis industry for all individuals seeking cannabis, regardless of prior criminal convictions

Affordable and/or subsidized cannabis medicine for low-income patients

  1. Drug War Statistics.” Drug Policy Alliance, 2016, www.drugpolicy.org/issues/drug-war-statistics. []
  2. Tinoco, Matt. “Why Has Los Angeles’ DA Been Slow to Expunge Old Pot Convictions?” Capital & Main, 8 March, 2018. []
  3. Markus, Ben. “As Adults Legally Smoke Pot In Colorado, More Minority Kids Arrested For It.” NPR, 29 June 2016. []
  4. Roberts, Chris. “California Is Still Arresting Too Many People of Color for Cannabis.” Leafly, 22 August, 2017. []
  5. Koren, James Rufus. “”L.A. Pot Retailer MedMen Has 12 Shops, a $1.6-billion Valuation, and, Coming Soon, Canadian Stock.” Los Angeles Times, 25 May, 2018. []
  6. Mueller, Benjamin. “New York City Will End Marijuana Arrests for Most People.” The New York Times, 19 June, 2018. []
  7. McVey, Eli. “Women and Minorities in the Cannabis Industry.” Marijuana Business Daily, Sept. 2017. []
  8. Edwards, Ezekiel et al. The War on Marijuana in Black and White. ACLU Foundation, 2013 []
  9.  Garcia, Lynda. “The War on Marijuana Has a Latino Data Problem.” ACLU, 14 June 2013. []
  10. Mock, Brentin. “California’s Race to the Top on Cannabis.” City Lab, 5 Feb. 2018. []
  11. Taylor Jr., Otis R. “Oakland’s Marijuana Equity Program Is Hurting Those It Was Supposed to Help.” San Francisco Chronicle, 15 July, 2018. []
  12.  Enwemeka, Zeninjor. “Marijuana Entrepreneurs Given ‘Priority’ in Mass. Are Struggling to Get through Licensing Process.” WBUR, 26 July, 2018 []
  13. Fox, Hayley. “Los Angeles Licensing Delays Hit Minority Applicants Hard.” Leafly, 23 July, 2018. []

Author

CBD Expert | View posts

A translator and interpreter for English and French, Vicky's journey within the CBD industry started off in the US. Since then, she has discovered the multiple benefits from CBD on the body but also in particular on the skin, which has become one of her passion topics of research and writing since then.

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