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Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry - How can you help?

As Illinois works to incorporate the cannabis industry into its plans for social and economic reform, we must understand the role that social equity plays in long term, community empowered growth. Social equity, for those unfamiliar, is the belief that all members of society deserve fair treatment in policy; with equal access to public services, opportunities, and policies. To understand the vital role social equity plays, we must understand the history of cannabis prohibition and its impact on communities.

A Harmful History

In the United States, cannabis prohibition has a complex history of harmful repercussions— backlash that has been felt disproportionately by marginalized POC. As the era of prohibition coincided with the expansion of the for-profit prison industry, extreme drug policies filled these increasing demands for prisoners. In 2017 alone, 91% of people arrested for cannabis law violations were arrested for possession—47% of which were Black or Latino.

Now, as cannabis legalization becomes the norm, we must rectify (to the best of our ability) the harm imposed onto marginalized communities during an era where people were made the scapegoats for predatory, unwarranted policy. In government, this can be achieved through various policies, like the expungement of drug charges. But for the more common business owner, social equity doesn’t have to be steeped in governmental action— in fact, it can be as simple as connecting two people you know.

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How You Can Make an Impact

Cresco Labs, a manufacturer for world-renowned cannabis brands, has implemented a Social Equity and Education Development (SEED) initiative that ensures all people have the necessary skills, knowledge, and opportunity to work in the blossoming cannabis industry. This SEED initiative is a great example for how businesses can remain conscious of their impact, helping the disenfranchised through financial assistance and applicable social programs.

How can you learn from SEED? Here are some of the ways they’re helping:


In the beginning of 2019, Cresco Labs paid for the business licensing applications of over 50 applicants. Those awarded their license can then receive a large grant to kick start their business while maintaining 100% ownership.

Photo via Business Wire

Being able to provide large grants to community advocates, expunged citizens, etc., is a fantastic way to lower the barrier to entry into an industry projected to reach $31B by 2022. Building a social equity model that empowers applicants with the capital necessary to build a profitable operation is an impactful way to build social equity into your business model.

Diversity in Hiring

In its simplest form, diversity can mean that your cannabis company is taking steps to hire members from disproportionately affected communities—providing equal opportunity towards growth potential in an emerging industry.

Photo via Cresco Labs

Your company can elaborate on this mission by providing opportunities for hands-on experience in all areas of a cannabis business. Whether that be business formation, regulatory compliance, cultivation, manufacturing; the opportunities for involvement are vast, and go beyond class operational dispensary roles. Cannavas Creative has hired over 50% female creatives and photographers from over 5 different countries.

Education & Workforce Development

Seed is also collaborating with colleges and universities to inspire, educate and prepare students for a career in the cannabis industry. However, this initiative can be much simpler than developing coursework. If you’re a cannabis professional, there are plenty of accessible ways for you to develop the emerging cannabis workforce. Mentoring someone with an aspiring career is a great way to give advice, teach lessons, and get another person’s foot in the door. Similarly, simply connecting someone to a valuable resource could be the missing puzzle piece to a successful career in cannabis.

The legalization of cannabis has major implications for the economy, business owners and the overall de-stigmatization of cannabis. However, to move forward in a way that acknowledges the past, we must also make room for those who were disproportionately affected by legalization to prosper. Making social equity a top priority, no matter how big or small the initiative, is the most meaningful way to create an industry that wholly serves the people it speaks to. If you are interested in creating a more diverse work space in your cannabis business, please feel free to reach out to Cannavas Creative as we have a multitude of resources and connections to help you find the perfect fit. We are also offering a discounted rate for sustainable design plans to be included in the application of those who qualify as an under-represented group in the industry.

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