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Community Voices: Neil Lequia

We need to make sure we are allocating and distributing licenses to minorities as they become available.

Neil Lequia, Cannabis LGBTQ Advocate, Founder of The Full Spectrum, Seattle, Washington

What does equality in the Cannabis industry mean to you?

Total equality in the Cannabis industry would mean that every individual has the same access and opportunities, regardless of inherent differences. 

What needs to change about the Cannabis industry as it relates to equality/equity?

We need a Cannabis industry that reflects consumer demographics proportionately. This includes ownership, as well as the workforce. The industry needs minorities in all positions, not just at entry-level. The War on Drugs has disproportionately affected people of color. Criminal history has been a way to exclude applicants from becoming license holders, even if that history was Cannabis-related. There are so many people profiting from Cannabis, while there are still thousands of people in prison right now for Cannabis charges.

Expungement is a good start, but by itself isn’t good enough. Individuals are often unaware they’re eligible. In many states, people still have to go through complicated application processes and pay fees, which can be additional barriers. We need auto-expungement – a process that would vacate these records immediately – instead of creating more hoops to jump through. We also need wrap-around services for those affected by the War on Drugs, such as housing and food services.

We need more awareness of minority-owned businesses to support. We need to make sure we are allocating and distributing licenses to minorities as they become available. We also need industry-wide employee protections, such as non-discrimination policies. 

What is the Cannabis industry getting right in terms of equality and equity?

The willingness to listen, grow and do better. We have a long way to go, but there are so many passionate people actively working to change the system before it’s too late. Washington State just created the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force, which is responsible for giving the Liquor and Cannabis Board recommendations to establish a social equity program, as well as advise the governor and legislature on policy. 

Can you give us an example of something equitable you’ve seen happen in the Cannabis space?

I’m seeing more and more expungement fairs happening, which is fantastic! Auto-expungements are happening in a lot of the newer states that are legalizing as well, and a lot are also creating equity programs for license distribution from the start – instead of trying to fix something that was forgotten about initially.

What challenges are facing the Cannabis industry in terms of equality and equity?

Washington was one of the first states to legalize Cannabis, and made a lot of missteps when it came to ensuring an equitable playing field. We’ve already issued our licenses before making sure they would be distributed fairly and equitably. Now we’re trying to be more intentional as licenses get redistributed. There is a huge lack of human resources. A new industry means that every business is a startup. Not every business has policies or protections in place for their employees. Not every business is a safe place for a minority to thrive. We have an inconsistent patchwork of how we’re handling criminality and expungement – it’s harder to be effective when there are so many independent movements and challenges. We need a bit more awareness, compassion, and cohesion to truly impact equality and equity in the industry.

About Tom Bowers

Tom Bowers is in this with all of you.

This article was originally published in the August 2021 issue of all Leaf Magazines.

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