Jason Ortiz | Co-Founder | Minority Cannabis Business Association | Hartford, Connecticut
What does equality in the Cannabis industry mean to you?
I’m pushing for equity, which is a bit different from equality. Equality normally refers to everyone being treated the same, whereas equity is an effort to ensure those who have been held back get extra support – so that we all end up with the same ability to succeed. Equality doesn’t take history into context, and the history of Cannabis is one where some groups suffered legal consequences far more than others. People of color specifically, as well as cultivators of all colors, have been targeted for arrest, harassment, extortion, loss of their children, and much more. In order to have a mutually supportive Cannabis industry, we must be pushing for equity over equality.
What needs to change about the Cannabis industry as it relates to equality/equity?
Limited licensing is the bane of all of us, and the first thing we could do to ensure more people are able to join the industry is to completely do away with limited licensing in all contexts. Let everyone who wants to grow and sell Cannabis legally do so. This is something progressive lefties like myself can get behind, as well as free-market libertarians. The current system of crony oligarchic control of limited licenses, states like little fiefdoms awarded to aristocrats who know how to bribe effectively, like we have in Connecticut, is the worst of all worlds. I would much rather see something like we saw in Oregon, where lots of small farms were able to open immediately, to spread nationwide. People of color can grow amazing weed and we’re happy to compete, just give us a fair license process and we can support ourselves. It’s only where there’s limitations mandated by law that we need complicated equity licensing programs because the MSOs refuse to understand they have to share the opportunity with everyone else.
What is the Cannabis industry getting right in terms of equality and equity?
New states are including mandatory set-asides of licenses for equity applicants at a minimum of 50% of all licenses. Places like Connecticut are having the state contribute significant funding ($50 million) in start-up capital for SEA to access. Places like Oakland are funding cooperative kitchens and using equity cohorts – groups of businesses as the foundation of how equity support is distributed. I think this model of state funding providing hard assets like buildings and equipment to groups of businesses that are mutually supportive, is the future of equity first economics.
Can you give us an example of something equitable you’ve seen happen in the Cannabis space?
The Equity Works Incubator in Oakland run by Amber Senter of Supernova Women.
What challenges are facing the Cannabis industry in terms of equality and equity?
The greed of the major MSOs is growing and consolidating, and we are about to see big tobacco and big alcohol enter the space, as well as companies like Amazon speaking in favor of legalization. The equity movement now has to scale up to meet the challenges ahead, where our opposition are multi-billion or nearing trillion-dollar companies, rather than the ‘big business’ MSOs who are tiny by comparison. So our challenge is if we can also scale up, merge and unite to build a people-powered movement capable of finally ending the war on drugs, but also doing it in a way that carves out opportunities for our future generations. It’s no small task, but neither were the fights we have already won.