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High Country: Cannaclusive pens open letter to the cannabis industry

The cannabis collective advocating for fair and diverse representation shares its call for inclusivity.

Katie Shapiro
High Country
TAKE ACTION To read the open letter in full and support Cannaclusive’s mission, visit cannaclusive.com. Follow Cannaclusive socially @cannaclusive. Amarie Baker (@simplispiritu), Nichole Graf (@martinwgropper), Kassia Graham (@msgoodegg), Mary Pryor (@msmarypryor), Natasha Przedborski (@p.u.s.s.y.w.e.e.d), Savina Monet (@savinamonet) and Maya Shaw (@shop_shaw) were contributors and collaborators on the Cannaclusive open letter project.

Cannabis has an inclusivity issue. Cannaclusive is trying to solve it.

Seeking to make the industry more diverse, Mary Pryor co-founded Cannaclusive in 2017 as an effort “to facilitate fair representation of minority cannabis consumers.” Inspired by the growing opportunities, yet disappointed by the diversity issues taking root in mainstream cannabis culture, Cannaclusive offers resources to challenge the “whitewashed weed industry” such as a free stock photography gallery dedicated to diversity and the InclusiveBase, a directory of people of color (POC) who are leaders within the cannabis community. 

Amid the racial crisis our country is currently facing, Cannaclusive was prompted to launch The Accountability List earlier this month. The multi-sourced database is complied by a trusted group of volunteers, who’ve donated thousands of hours so far to cull through public and private information. Entries for each of the 262 companies (and counting) include the number of black employees, whether they are POC-owned, how they addressed the killing of George Floyd and if they’ve made any relevant donations.

When I spoke with Pryor for this story, I asked her if there were currently any cannabis companies that were doing enough; her answer was bluntly, “No.”

The prohibition of the plant itself is rooted in racism. 

In a recent op-ed, Erik Altieri, executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), explained, “Our decades-long prohibition of marijuana was founded upon racism and bigotry. Look no further than the sentiments of its architect, Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who declared: ‘(M)ost (marijuana consumers in the U.S.) are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. … (M)arijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes. … Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.’”

The criminalization of cannabis was (and is) fueled by discrimination. And despite the legalization of marijuana for adult-use in 2014, there is an immeasurable amount of work that must still be done. 

Arlene Pitterson, Cannaclusive’s director of partnerships added, “[Posting on] Instagram and Twitter is a simple out. At this point it’s performative. We’re asking people now, ‘What are you actually doing? What are your action items?’ If you’re going to make a donation or if you’re going to provide jobs for people of color, say that. If you’re just going to put up a black square, you’re going to be called out for that.”

The Accountability list is a “living, breathing document” that’s in stage one of three planned phases, ultimately giving a diversity report and score, while also highlighting businesses exceeding the challenge and those failing to meet Cannaclusive’s minimum standards. 

“We’re asking for people to see us. We’re still not being seen,” pleaded Pryor, who is also the chief marketing officer for Tonic CBD and Tricolla Farms. “If it’s not going to take Trayvon [Martin], Breonna [Taylor] and George Floyd to make a difference … if it’s not going to take black and brown people telling you that this isn’t right … that this industry is being gobbled up by white men who intentionally — and through documents and emails that we’re receiving — are making it hostile for people of color to exist in the cannabis industry, then it’s time to hold people accountable.”

Cannaclusive’s companion call-to-action is an open letter authored by Pryor and Cannaclusive’s collaborators addressed to the “Cannabis and Hemp Community.” In the more than 1,000 word text, Pryor asks companies to prioritize diversity through inclusion support, employment practices, reversing the impacts of the War on Drugs, and increasing Black, indigenous and POC leadership.

“This letter serves as a call to hold ourselves accountable to ensure a diverse and inclusive industry, as well as to be in active solidarity with communities harmed by the drug war as a means to end it and to reverse its impacts,” it begins. “According to the ACLU, 88% of cannabis arrests are for simple possession and according to NORML, Black people are up to 10x more likely to be arrested for cannabis. Based on this information, the cannabis community needs to recognize that the majority of folks harmed by the drug war are both patients and Black, which is why the industry needs to answer the above call in its entirety.”

The letter concludes, “As we explore next steps – towards progression for all – we recognize it is imperative we honor and respect the work required to promote inclusion and equity within corporate and startup entities. While there is a sense of urgency to address these much needed changes, we are aware there is an abundance of necessary education on, and unpacking of racism, sexism and the prejudicial nature of hiring and business culture, which exists in all industries.”

Katie Shapiro can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro. 


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