Social equity can be boiled down to a way of seeking remedy for the harms caused by the racist war on drugs and to help individuals, families, and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition. A big part of this is making sure that no one is left behind by the economic developments created by making cannabis legal. As local, state, and federal governments continue to grapple with implementing policies that effectively address this issue, there is a lot the industry can – and should – do to help make sure that the opportunities in regulated cannabis markets are inclusive and equitable, and to help support businesses owned by members of marginalized communities.
As many as 70% of consumers want brands to take a stand on social and political issues. That’s a 66% increase from 2017, according to Sprout Social’s 2019 #BrandsGetReal survey. Customers are more likely to purchase from companies that take a stand on causes aligning with their values and more importantly, companies hold the power to make a difference; even if it’s encouraging people to take baby steps towards a larger solution. Data shows they might already be doing that, because 67% of consumers say brands are raising awareness around just causes, and 62% believe brands are educating them on important topics.
Here are just a few ways that cannabis retailers can help be a part of the social equity solution to economic unfairness created by the failed war on drugs:
Partner with Job Programs
Cannabis arrests or convictions can erect barriers in someone’s life. More specifically, they can affect housing, education, and career prospects. Consider partnering with city, state, and national programs and organizations that are creating pathways to cannabis ownership and employment – including the formerly incarcerated – to create job opportunities for underserved communities.
Reach out to a local law firm or social justice organization and talk about hosting “expungement days.” Your efforts will help provide free legal measures for expunging low-level cannabis-related convictions. The Last Prisoner Project is a cannabis reformation project seeking to release prisoners currently convicted for cannabis-related crimes and help them assimilate back into society. However, local organizations may often have direct experience with this work in your communities and have well-established relationships with them to help better connect with the people who need these services the most.
Reach out to them and see what they recommend before planning your expungement day. You can also find out more information about expungement efforts nationally at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center.
Create shelf space
Socially conscious companies should show equity and racial justice on your stores’ shelves. Whether it is making a “social equity section” or finding ways to educate budtenders on the merits and stories behind the products, you will be moving sales in the right direction and promoting socially conscious consumer patterns. You can also provide tabling space for brand ambassadors to help promote social equity company products that you carry. This not only helps the brands but also creates greater loyalty to your store.
Find products that are both socially equitable and fit your dispensary’s needs. That way, you push the product because you love the product, not just because it’s trendy. But in doing so, you are contributing to positive social change and acceptance, and driving commerce toward BIPOC-owned companies. Remember, the goal is equity.
Form equitable partnerships for ownership
Are you a retailer, cultivator, or production company? Maybe you’re a vertically integrated, multi-state operation. You might not even touch the cannabis plant at all, but provide services to those who do. No matter who you are in cannabis, find ways to partner with social equity companies and help increase their recognition. Maybe it’s mutually beneficial joint venture projects on brands or another arrangement, but find ways to form fair and collaborative relationships.
Above all, keep it real
In the end, authenticity is key, and to take a stand in a way that inspires customers: your message can’t be filled with empty words. If you’re a company that’s looking for causes to rally behind, keep it in your wheelhouse and make sure your audience will resonate with the partnerships you’re creating.
Retail businesses have the power to become change agents and inspire customers to take action in their own backyards. Seek out opportunities like the ones we mentioned and provide opportunities for wealth generation, education, and social restoration in marginalized communities.
According to statistics, you’ll make a lasting impression on your audience, increase sales, and you’ll be a force for positive social change as you impact lives in your community and beyond. What’s better than that?