How to Be an Ally as a Cannabis Business
Published on 9/14/20
We believe in standing for equality and supporting in solidarity, as both individuals and businesses. The history of cannabis within the US has been intimately tied to racial oppression and LGBTQ+ rights, so we believe that the cannabis industry has an innate responsibility to be a leader in supporting these (and other) marginalized communities. As an industry, as local businesses, and as individual community members, it's important, now more than ever, that we stand up and be outspoken allies to these underrepresented groups.
The State of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ Communities in America
The state of our nation has been tested in 2020, perhaps in ways that many of us have never experienced before. However, no one has felt the effects of these times quite like our brothers and sisters that identify as marginalized citizens. Black Lives Matter has found a resurgence in the face of increased hate crimes, outward abuse of power by police departments, and rhetoric that continues to paint their long-endured pains as unfounded nuisances. BIPOC, an acronym that stands for Black and Indigenous People of Color has been increasingly applied to bring awareness to how widespread the injustices of our system are. Racism in America is a pervasive issue that affects different creeds and ethnicities in many different ways; and while 2020 has provided new stages on which these issues can be addressed, it has also given us a new wave of white supremacy and radical anti-progressive social perspectives that look to quell any positive changes that could come from this year's hardships. This is only too relevant concerning marijuana arrests. A black person is, even 50 years after the War on Drugs began, 3.73x more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, and this number increases upward to 8x, depending on the state.
Meanwhile, the LGBTQ+ community continues to face nationwide discrimination. While progress has been made over the last few decades, this progress often overshadows the difficulties of those who identify as LGBTQ+. New anti-trans legislation is constantly mixed into approved policies, and the same rhetoric that adversely affects BIPOC also hurts LGBTQ+. It's important to note that the LGBTQ+ community has long stood as an advocate for marijuana legalization. Some of the cannabis community's most significant proponents and activist leaders have identified as LGBTQ+, and the cannabis industry has largely been a proponent of Pride and the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights. This is a relationship that must continue to be strengthened and acknowledged, just as the relationship between civil rights and the cannabis community must also be taken up with renewed vigor and determination.
What It Means to Be an Ally
As a business within the cannabis community, being an ally means standing up to these injustices and acknowledging your brand's alignment with underrepresented, marginalized communities. Being an ally means promoting diversity, listening to your customers and community members, understanding their perspectives, and actively
supporting their importance, their struggles, and their right to be treaty equally, always. As a business, being an ally means providing active support and participation for your employees, showing support through your brand, and becoming a participating member of your local community that raises its voice against social injustices.
Allyship and Support Are Not Marketing Tools
It is unfortunate that, oftentimes, businesses use these solidarity tactics as a way to promote their brand. Being an understanding business that promotes civil rights and equality can be profitable, and businesses have been frequently known to use solidarity as a marketing tool. Allyship should not be used as a marketing strategy. The rights of others and your support of them should be, at its core, separate from your aims at higher profit margins. Making an ad or creating social media posts that highlight allyship is a good thing, but it cannot be the only thing you do as a business. Allyship should be an ethical stand that permeates throughout your shop's culture and the way you identify within your community.
How to Be an Ally
There are many ways you can provide support for underrepresented people - and the more ways in which you show this support, the better. Be creative, ask your staff, your peers, and your customers what your business can do to better provide support. Do as much as you can, where you can. To start, consider these staple actions of allyship:
Social Media Posts
You probably already use it - social media is an excellent marketing tool for cannabis businesses - but it can be used as a force for social change. By tailoring your content to actively promote and support social issues and marginalized communities like BIPOC and LGBTQ+, you can increase awareness while also making it very clear where your business stands. Change is more likely when more people are exposed to consistent messaging of support and allyship.
Store Signage and Visual Support
Post signs on and outside of your store that show support of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. It's the original social media, and it still absolutely works to show visible support. By simply creating a Black Lives Matter sign or hanging a Pride flag, you can do a lot to make your space a safer place for all customers and community members. It's through constant support like this that larger changes might then more easily take hold.
Tailor Your Website and Change Your Verbiage
Posting on social media is an excellent way to grow and strengthen the voice of your company's brand, but it's not the only way. Go to the "About" page of your website and create a section that clearly states your support of various communities. Make it a staple of your company's brand that Black Lives Matter, that love is love, and that women's rights are human rights. Be blunt, be clear, be proud, and make these views an active part of your company's purpose. Write it down and publish it proudly.
Diversity and Inclusion Training
Much of allyship is about creating a company culture that shows support for all communities. It shouldn't just be a social media message, a sign, or even just part of your company's vision - it should be part of every employee's perspective of their job and their place within both the company and community. Show your support by hiring a diverse staff and by training your staff on diversity and inclusion. Make sure everyone that's part of your company gets the education they need to be on the same page about allyship and social responsibility. As it is with so many things, change begins (and continues) with a conversation.
Donations and Community Involvement
Make community support and social justice a living, breathing part of your company by promoting and inviting donations and community involvement. Put your money where it matters and dedicate a percentage of your profits to local charities that support underserved and marginalized communities. Incentivize your staff to truly get involved within the community by offering paid volunteer time and signing up for local charity and volunteer events. Don't just talk about change, but actively work toward it. Bring your allyship into the community, work with other dispensaries and local non-profits, and make social justice an active part of your company's routine.
Please comment and respond with your suggestions, insights, and experiences. Together, we can create a space where there is equal room and representation for all.