America’s Reckoning with Racism is ‘More Than a Moment,’ Say Cannabis Industry Members
Willie Mack, left, and CJ Wallace, right, of cannabis startup Think BIG
Screenshot of Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana’s Facebook Live video

America’s Reckoning with Racism is ‘More Than a Moment,’ Say Cannabis Industry Members

The Minority Cannabis Business Association and Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana hosted a Facebook Live event to confront a lack of diversity in many organizations’ leadership and management structures, cultural appropriation, and more.

July 1, 2020

Editor’s Note: Cannabis Business Times follows Associated Press Style and now capitalizes the “b” in “Black” when referring to people in the context of race, culture or ethnicity.

On June 26, Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana (M4MM) and the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) co-hosted a Facebook Live event titled More than a Moment: Dismantling Systemic Racism in the Cannabis Industry: A Call to Action at 8:46 p.m. Eastern Time, calling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence for event participants. A clock ticked down between numerous clips: an image of the mural of George Floyd at Cup Foods in Minneapolis, right near where he lost his pulse; music, including Todrick Hall’s “Water Guns” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come;” and video of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

The moment of silence continued for roughly the length of time on May 25 that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck as three more officers stood by, murdering him in the second degree, according to prosecutors.

The organizers then showed the names and photos of people of color who died from police violence and at the hands of others, such as white men claiming to be protecting their neighborhoods. The victims include Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, John Crawford III and Stephon Clark. “say their names!!!” someone commented, echoing the calls from protesters who are marching in streets across the U.S. and the world.

What followed was a diverse group of speakers expressing a range of emotions over systemic racism that continues to pervade American society, including in disproportionate marijuana arrests and sentencing. They shared stories about overcoming challenges in the cannabis market, supporting Black and brown communities and actively fighting racism. The roughly hour-and-a-half-long event used the hashtags #youcandomore and #wecandomore.

“We need true partners”

Leadership from MCBA and M4MM discussed both what racism can look like and what the industry can do to confront it, as well as better support communities of color.

Brandon L. Wyatt Esq., board member of MCBA, talked about racial inequities in society, like how researchers found that Black students make up about a fifth of students with disabilities but comprise 44% of students placed in mechanical constraints. “Thirty-one percent of the U.S. population, give or take, are white men. Yet, white men make up 80% of Congress' members … But what if it was different? … We are social capital. We are human capital,” Wyatt said. “It is the time now to put those thoughts and ideas together, as we have collectively [done], continue to expand upon that and grow this tree of America into the society that we want and desire.”

M4MM Board Chair Erik Range said Black and brown people have been allies of movements, including with women and LGBTQ movements, and now, people need to be allies to Black and brown people.

“We’re not looking for handouts, we’re looking for opportunities, we’re looking for partnerships, we’re looking for you to find space in your organization for us,” Range said. “Yes, be supportive of us in our endeavors, but also make sure that you find the space in your organization.

“No longer is it OK for you to promote to the Black community, to claim to speak on behalf of the Black community and have no one from the Black community on your board, or a part of your leadership team, or a part of the entire organization. We don’t need one-off events to support us. We need true partners, people who are looking to come and add value to our communities in the way that we add value to other communities.”

“The cannabis industry can do a whole lot more”

At a time when cultural appropriation is top of mind for many, and for the first time for some, M4MM founder and CEO Roz McCarthy spoke about “culture vultures” in the cannabis space.

“They’ll use the likeness of our face or what have you, but the inside, from the executive suite, board of directors, all the way down to mid-level management—there’s no one that looks like us,” McCarthy said. “So, it’s almost like you’re pretending to support us, but you really don’t.”

RELATED: Business, Government Leaders Push for Social Equity, More Diversity in Cannabis Market

McCarthy, moderating throughout the event, brought up culture vultures in a question to speakers CJ Wallace and Willie Mack of cannabis startup Think BIG. She asked if celebrities who have cannabis brands can do more to work more with businesses that give back to communities of color. “They cut deals, and I ain’t mad at it,” she said. “Cut your deal, but let’s hold folks accountable in regards to—don’t just use my face and not recognize the beauty of the people that also can add value.”

Wallace, co-founder of Think BIG and the son of The Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace), said rapper and actor Method Man (Clifford Smith Jr.) and former NBA player Al Harrington are among those celebrities in the industry who are “making it known that they are trying to give back.”

An overarching theme in pushing forward conversations about race today is telling white men, “‘You can’t do that anymore,’” said Willie Mack, CEO and co-founder of Think BIG, in response to McCarthy and Wallace’s comments about companies using people of color’s name and likeness but not giving back.

“The same with #MeToo,” Mack said, which was one of multiple times in the conversation he offered the analogy to the women’s movement that began in 2017. “It’s like, ‘You can’t treat women like this anymore.’ They’re like, ‘Oh, right, I guess we can’t. No, we can’t.’"

Wallace explained that Think BIG is a “social equity advocacy platform brand” focused on giving back. Some of the proceeds from the company’s Frank White Creative Blend will go toward the Prison Arts Project, the company announced in April 2019. “Obviously, for me, the most important thing was keeping my original genuineness and not trying to make it just a bunch of products with Biggie’s face on it with no real intention of giving back or doing something for the people that aren’t heard,” he said.

As Think BIG looked to form partnerships in the industry over about the past two years, from investors to the supply chain, it made decisions based on if those businesses were dedicated to social equity. The startup team would ask industry members and investors questions like, “’Do you have a real clear social equity or real sort of diversity program internally?’” Mack said. “And if that was a ‘No,’ we were like, ‘Nope, we can’t work with you.’ We’re not going to be the token, sort of, like, greenwashed brand that’s going to help you feel good about what you’re doing if you’re not making systemic changes."

Think BIG’s partners include Lowell Herb Co., the Urban Pharm in Northern California and the Rose Collective and Sweet Flower in Los Angeles, per a 2019 press release.

Aside from seeking to convince cannabis businesses to make cognizant decisions to support Black and brown communities, More Than a Moment also called attention to the U.S. judicial system. In a prerecorded video, lifelong New Orleans resident Bernard Noble shared his experience of being sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for two joints’ worth of marijuana. He was arrested in 2010 and released in 2018.

Screenshot of Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana’s Facebook Live video
Bernard Noble was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for two joints’ worth of marijuana.

“It takes my breath away sometimes to think about this,” Noble said. “People, it’s time to come together. It’s really important that we stick together on this. The cannabis industry can do a whole lot more with what’s going on. And when I think about this, it leaves my tongue tied. I’m really excited to be home [from prison], and I’m interested in changing these things.”

Stigmatization and criminalization of cannabis needs to end, Noble said, adding that he would urge critics not to condone cannabis use but to try to understand the benefits it provides for a community. (Following the event, McCarthy told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary that the de-stigmatization of cannabis would benefit the U.S. broadly, and stopping its criminalization “would help to decrease incarceration especially in Black and brown communities.”)

Dr. Oludare Odumosu, CEO of public biotech company Zelira Therapeutics, and previously the chief operating officer and chief scientific officer of multimillion-dollar company Elira Healthcare said in a prerecorded video that he has plans to do more in the fight against racism, including teach the difference between equality and equity, invest in the de-stigmatization of and re-education around cannabis, and speak more about Black health issues.

Other guest speakers throughout the event included Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve; Quintin Glover, owner of Road Runner Co.; and Yolanda Shavies and Assata Bilal, owners of E7 Oakland.

“We have this moment in time”

Dr. Rachel Knox, a specialist in cannabinoids and MCBA medical chair, presented the call to action for the cannabis industry, which she said would be improved upon to include further specificity and timeframes (see below images).

Screenshot of Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana’s Facebook Live video

Knox read the call to action aloud, then said: “Right now, my call to action, personally, is for all cannabis workers, licensees, operators, business owners, regulators, legislators—you name it—to understand we have this moment in time where we can literally leverage the economy of cannabis through its legalization, its policy reform, through its taxation, and its ... unique innovations across the industrial, agricultural, nutritional and medicinal spaces, to make sure [all determinants of wellbeing] are well-capitalized, such that we can create these healthy communities through which we can thrive."

Near the end of the event, Cherron Perry-Thomas, co-founder and director of social impact for the Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunities, spoke. “It’s so, so important that we do support those organizations in our community,” she said. “We know that there are several organizations and businesses in Minneapolis that were damaged due to the uprising, and we want to make sure that we support them.”

In closing comments, Wyatt, who said he has an interest in physics, said: “Everyone has to realize where the difference between power and force is. Forces are laws, regulations, policies—man-driven items that tend to make people fit into a space. And power—well, that’s something that comes from an infinite intelligence, that’s something that comes from a collective. That’s something that comes from the frequency and vibration of the world. We must all continue to be as powerful as we are so that we can make sure that the changes and the forces that are against us are aligned in the proper light. And I just want everyone to stay encouraged because we’re doing the work, and let’s continue to do that—powerfully."