When it comes to how we shop, a symbol can make all the difference. When it comes to how we shop for Cannabis, there’s something you should be looking for and it’s not the THC percentage.
What I’m referring to is a little green circle called the Equity Trade Certification mark. It certifies that a jar of Cannabis was produced by a brand that qualifies for Cannabis Social Equity programs. The concept was created back in 2016 to help secure shelf space with retailers, as well as inform consumers about what supporting equity-owned brands actually means.
Equity Trade Network describes their certified member brands as businesses owned and operated by Black, Brown, Indigenous, LGBTQ, Veteran, or system-impacted people. Its dedicated board includes powerhouses like Ishaq Ali, Richard Ng, Chelsea Candelaria, Terryn Buxton, and co-founders Nina Parks and Ramon Garcia. Parks is a consultant, Cannabis advocate, creator of the brand Gift of Doja, and a founding member of Supernova Women, which promotes women of color within the industry. Garcia, a second-generation activist and cultivator, has worked with the National Cannabis Industry Association, the Cannabis Distributors Association and the California Growers Association.
The project took shape around 2016 when Garcia, Parks and others were working with the city of Oakland to develop equity license types for communities that have been disproportionately wronged by the criminalization of Cannabis. The next problem they faced was after they informed people of the problem, they had no clear suggestions to give them on how to support the cause when they picked up a jar at their local dispensary.
As more and more brands hit the market with a huge variety of marketing and packaging, consumers were faced with a constantly shifting array of options and no way to make sure their purchases were supporting the kind of farms and producers that aren’t owned by large corporate interests. Garcia and Parks noticed that this was something consumers were already doing for their apples and coffee, so what was the barrier keeping that from translating into Cannabis?
Garcia points out that much of the organic and fairtrade movements came out of social justice issues and wanting to know where your money is going. Does your purchase support a living wage for members that are invested in their community and their commodity? Just like the green dot or the Fairtrade mark, what they needed was a recognized emblem that could help people identify these options, or lack thereof, in their local markets.
What they developed was a trademark to not only provide a visual representation for consumers, but also hold accountable anyone that was merely paying lip service to the community. In March of 2021, the U.S. Patent Office approved trademark registration for the Equity Trade certification mark. This federally recognized certification identifies businesses with 50% or more ownership by someone who’s gone through a local city, county or state equity program.
As Parks highlighted, “What we’re looking for is for folks to become more conscious as consumers. Being able to shop equity trade allows you to vote with your dollar to say you support equity networks, you support people who have been harmed by the war on drugs’ policies.” Over 30 brands have become certified members and they’ve also had people pledge to become official allies to the network.
The organization itself has been an invaluable resource for smaller equity brands that are looking for resources, or just a community to talk to about the issues surrounding licensing, cultivation and distribution. Their impact is already creating lasting changes for brands all throughout California, but with this federally recognized mark, they’re impacting markets all over the country.
Thanks to the Equity Trade Network, we can tell what’s actually benefiting our community when we shop at a dispensary – and it’s as simple as looking at the symbol on the jar.