In an Oct. 8 Zoom call, the Cannabis Trade Federation’s (CTF) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force announced two new programs to work toward ending inequities for minorities in the cannabis industry: a Policy Platform and Member Assessment Tool.
“The Policy Platform offers CTF members an expansive list of recommendations around economic development and workforce, ownership, government policy, community partnerships and criminal-justice reform,” Linda Mercado Greene, chair of the DEI Task Force and owner and CEO of Anacostia Organics, said during the call.
She continued: “The Member Assessment Tool will serve as a benchmarking scorecard mechanism to measure the progress of the DEI practices for CTF members, and to act as an accountability and transparency tool. These will be in the areas of recruitment and retention, procurement and business ventures, governance and philanthropy, and community engagement.”
Every CTF member will be required to participate in both programs, Greene added. CTF’s 27-member DEI Task Force, created in May 2019, worked on the proposals, and CTF’s board of directors approved them in August, according to a press release.
In 2019, the DEI Task Force, whose membership includes Karen Boykin-Towns and Derrick Johnson of the NAACP, former NBA player and coach Isiah Thomas and 1906 co-founder and CEO Peter Barsoom, met in Denver for three days, Greene said. The Task Force’s members, not all of whom have worked in the cannabis industry, toured cultivation facilities and dispensaries. Since then, Task Force members have held bimonthly calls and kept up email exchanges.
“We didn't all agree on everything, but we came together on something that we can all support,” Greene said.
Continuing the Diversity & Inclusion Discussion
Businessman and author Tracey Syphax, a member of the DEI Task Force, spoke of the lack of opportunities for people of color in the cannabis industry.
Syphax, who wrote the book “From the Block to the Boardroom” about his experiences in prison and in entrepreneurship, said that as Americans seek justice for minorities and an end to systemic racism, it serves as a reminder of the need for cannabis policy reform and greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in cannabis businesses.
“What is abundantly clear in 2020 is that with respect to black and brown people, we do not have a supply problem in the United States. We have a sector-wide demand problem,” Syphax said. “Industry, government, capital markets and others who decide on the distribution of resources have ignored talent among minorities for far too long. This must stop.”
Dr. Patricia Frye, M.D., a DEI Task Force member who also co-chairs the Maryland State Medical Society’s Cannabis Task Force and wrote the book “The Medical Marijuana Guide: Cannabis and Your Health,” noted that numerous studies have shown diverse workplaces produce benefits such as higher economic success and greater innovation when compared with less-diverse workplaces.
“When we speak about diversity, equity and inclusion in the cannabis industry, we are speaking about the need across the board,” Frye said. “It's not enough to just hire black and brown people in the lowest pay levels where this is little or no opportunity for job and financial growth. While these jobs are important, it has to also mean the inclusion of minorities in the highest decision-making roles and across all levels of job responsibility.”
Shelli Williams Hayes, who served as a Cook County, Ill., Circuit Court judge and is a co-founder of Tetrasol Holdings, said CTF supports the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. She shared some other cannabis-related restorative-justice goals. These include an increase in studies addressing how prohibition has impacted family law and immigration issues and discrimination in employment and housing, and removal of positive cannabis results on drug tests as the sole basis for determining parole and probation violations.
Hayes said she also supports “reinvesting tax revenue to treatment programs and public education programs geared toward reducing substance overdoses and saving lives. The last thing I want to also encourage is free expungement of criminal records so that people can enter into the cannabis industry, if they're interested, of course.”
Addressing CTF’s new Policy Platform and Member Assessment Tool, Christian Sederberg, CTF board chair and interim CEO, and founding partner of Vicente Sederberg, said the new policy will hold the industry accountable, which is important.
“I'm happy to see all the progress that's being made, but we all have a lot of work to do,” he said. “With that in mind, we look forward to continuing to collaborate with the Task Force to implement these recommendations. They're good policy, but most importantly, it's just the right and necessary thing to do."