In case you haven’t been paying attention, social equity in the cannabis industry is a hot-button topic. Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in New York broke down last year primarily over a lack of provisions in pending legislation that gave members of underrepresented communities a clear path into the industry.
Progress has been made since then, however. The Illinois law that legalized marijuana for use by adults in June 2019 has been hailed as a model of social equity in cannabis. And the City of Detroit just approved its plan for a recreational cannabis industry last month, nearly a year after legal sales began in Michigan. The extra time invested in drafting the plan resulted in strong equity measures that include a guarantee that at least half of the licenses for cannabis retailers will go to longtime city residents, who will also get priority in the application process and other perks.
Supporting Communities With Commerce
But no matter how progressive they are, social equity measures in cannabis regulation won’t help businesses owned by members of underrepresented communities unless consumers buy their products. The challenge of connecting companies with consumers who want to support them is the goal of a new initiative rolled out by cannabis online marketplace Jane last month. By using the new ownership tags feature, shoppers on the platform can find dispensaries owned by entrepreneurs who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or people of color), women, LGBTQ, or military veterans, and direct their purchases to communities they want to support.
“Today, more than ever, shoppers understand that how and where they spend their dollars can drive real economic impact,” Socrates Rosenfeld, co-founder and CEO of Jane Technologies, said in a press release. “Ownership tags allow customers to shop with their heart right in their own local community.”
The ownership tags are currently available to the more than 1,600 cannabis dispensaries in 33 states that use the e-commerce platform, and early next year the program will also be rolled out to cannabis brands to complete the connection between producers, retailers and customers.
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“We recognize that this industry was built on the backs of underrepresented groups, such as BIPOC, veterans, women pioneers, LGBTQ individuals and more,” Rosenfeld writes in a virtual interview. “As the cannabis industry matures, these groups should not be left behind, and we should find ways to allow operators to identify themselves within the industry.”
Jane feels that it is important to empower consumers, Rosenfeld says. The platform has always allowed shoppers to compare products by price, reviews and recommendations, and the new tags will add the ability for consumers to filter results by business ownership.
“Shopping in stores owned by underrepresented communities is another variable that gives consumers control,” Rosenfeld explains. “The ownership tags are optional for dispensaries, and consumers can choose to filter by those tags if they consider ownership to be an important factor in their purchasing, allowing people to put their dollars where they want them.”
Creating Success Through Mutual Support
Crystal Nugs, a licensed cannabis dispensary in Sacramento, California, is listed on Jane with the ownership tags for BIPOC and women entrepreneurs. Co-founder Maisha Bahati says that her company’s relationship with Jane has “absolutely” had a positive impact on the business, with the new ownership tags being only one example of how the platform can support small businesses trying to compete.
“As a Black woman from an underdeveloped community in Sacramento who is trying to make it in the cannabis business – which is 80% white male – it’s important to support those who have suffered the most in the War on Drugs and help them succeed in the cannabis industry,” she writes in an email.
Bahati believes that social equity programs in the cannabis industry can help level the playing field for underrepresented entrepreneurs who disproportionately face challenges, most notably raising capital to open and grow their businesses. But also important are tools that help these businesses support each other.
“Crystal Nugs is one of the first social equity businesses in Sacramento, and we’re huge advocates for bringing more women and more minorities into this business,” says Bahati. “We want to change the narrative about social equity by not focusing on what we lack, but instead on the resources we have to make a difference. Through our business, we can support social equity brands.”
Rosenfeld says that advancements such as Jane’s new ownership tags can help enhance one characteristic that cannabis culture and commerce have long enjoyed: a sense of community.
“As we innovate, we ask ourselves how we can move the industry forward and allow it to mature without losing what made it special from the start. Community and inclusivity are core values,” he stresses. “For us to honor that legacy, we need to build tools that preserve the essence of this industry.”