Shanel Lindsay, Founder and President, Ardent Life, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts
What does equality in the Cannabis industry mean to you?
It’s important to distinguish between equality (the general fairness that we look to be instilled in the world) and equity specifically as it relates to the cannabis industry. The concept of equity is based on data showing decades of biased and disproportionate negative impact that cannabis prohibition had on Black and brown communities in the U.S. As cannabis moves from the shadows of prohibition to being a generator of wealth and opportunity, an equitable model demands that the people and communities who have born the harm and damage of prohibition should be the first to benefit from legalization.
What needs to change about the Cannabis industry as it relates to equality/equity?
There needs to be a hyper-focus on equity from the outset, right when the laws are being written. Equity does not come organically – there are far too many corporate interests who have power, influence and a desire to monopolize this industry that even where aggressive equity provisions have been enacted, there is still just a tiny group of equity businesses that actually make it to market.
What is the Cannabis industry getting right in terms of equality and equity?
Timing of access is really important. In Massachusetts, we have a three year window that is exclusive for economic empowerment and social equity delivery businesses. These exclusivity windows can help to give a more level playing field. Investment capital for equity businesses is also critical. Predatory loans are a big problem, so states that have enacted loan funds or give grants are doing the right thing to support equity entrepreneurs.
Can you give us an example of something equitable you’ve seen happen in the Cannabis space?
Exclusivity periods at the state and local level. No strings attached incubator programs that also provide no strings attached financial support to the equity businesses.
What challenges are facing the Cannabis industry in terms of equality and equity?
The tsunami of corporate forces that have entered or are attempting to influence cannabis both on the local, state level and on the national stage. These businesses are concerned about their own profitability above all else and aren’t concerned with righting the wrongs of prohibition or even allowing full freedoms, like home grow. They even attempt to co-opt the equity conversation, gaslighting the public into thinking they stand for equity. We have seen this happen time and time again in Massachusetts, and the stakes are even higher when we consider federal legalization. It is also important for consumers to be aware and to care about the places they are spending their dollars. Creating a conscious cannabis consumer base dedicated to supporting equity businesses will also be key.