Colorado and Washington legalized adult-use cannabis a decade ago, marking an opportunity to re-examine the intentions of this burgeoning market.
Human-rights-focused entrepreneurs are asking themselves myriad questions for the upcoming decade: While states increasingly legalized medical and/or adult-use cannabis, have social equity goals kept pace? Has market competition distanced us from the original intentions of cannabis legislation? How do businesspeople readjust priorities from monetary gain and instead consider collaborating with competition and organizations to build a better industry?
As a philanthropist, podcaster and social justice advocate, I often think about this topic. Read on to learn why and how collaboration could lead the cannabis industry to a more equitable and just future.
Ditching Competition for Collaboration Benefits the Entire Cannabis Industry
I’ll preface by saying I am business-minded and understand the need to create sustainable, long-term business models. Without staying in the black, there is no capacity to uplift others. However, it is only worth pursuing profits if your business enables social progress. With the cannabis industry estimated to add nearly $100 billion to the economy in 2022, the potential for impactful change looks positive.
Social equity is imperative above a traditional business mindset, and we must cooperate to see progress. By collaborating, we can share resources and knowledge while creating a more positive image of the cannabis industry. This could help attract new investors/customers who may be initially hesitant due to negative perceptions of social cannabis issues.
Assessing Your Cannabusiness’s Superpowers and Shortcomings
Assess your collaborative abilities to create the most positive impact. Garner feedback from multitudinous sources during this process: customers, employees, fellow entrepreneurs, stakeholders and the C-suite. Host surveys and discussion sessions facilitating feedback relative to what your organization offers, what it needs improvement on internally and any business structure changes that incentivize a net-positive social impact.
After identifying organizational capabilities, connecting with and vetting potential collaborators comes next. Smaller cannabusinesses may find local event participation and tackling regional policy presents a greater opportunity for a splash than taking on global issues. Established organizations can help point you the right direction regardless of size. Nonprofits like the Marijuana Policy Project and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, as well as impact-driven business models like Patagonia, Trader Joe’s and Tom’s, have missions beyond profit maximization.
8 Questions to Ask Before Teaming Up With Cannabis Social Justice Organizations
Read below eight tips to vet potential collaborative organizations and entrepreneurs.
1. Is Their Money Donated Thoughtfully?
Look how carefully organizations and individuals donate money and if those donations are spent thoughtfully. Weaving donation infrastructures into purchase models ensures those donations go to high-impact charities. Seek like-minded companies that match effort to need.
2. Do They Participate in Equity Initiatives, Like Hiring the Formerly Incarcerated?
Does your potential partner participate in initiatives like second-chance hiring? Seek organizations (or become one yourself) that coordinate with nonprofits like the criminal-injustice-fighting Last Prisoner Project.
3. Do They Make Space for Social Equity Businesses?
While social equity business licensing’s purpose is to help provide opportunities for historically disadvantaged populations, the entire process — regardless of state — often leaves applicants behind. Buoy social equity entrepreneurs and businesses as fellow organizations to make fairer markets. Ensure potential partners are doing likewise and not stifling equity licensing in their region.
4. What Legislation Are They Supporting or Undermining?
Do your potential collaborators actually support pro-cannabis and social equity legalization, or are they acting against the greater good for business interests? For instance, I recall an Arkansas licensee who donated against the Mississippi legalization initiative to maintain their advantage of being a nearby state with accessible products. Sure, being a big fish in a little pond has its advantages, none resulting in restorative justice and equity.
5. Are They Rising Above Advertising Stereotypes?
Organizations must match intent with action. Avoid partnering with those using unhelpful stereotypes like the lazy stoner trope to further fiscal gains. Remember, messaging is everything: Companies willing to throw their weight behind campaigns such as the ill-fated BLK MKT brand are unlikely to provide opportunities for the communities they profit from.
6. Do They Break the Mold?
Find collaborators willing to break the mold in the right direction and provide the opportunity for significant, transformative impact. Are they conforming or are they innovating? In a recent interview with author Todd Rose on my podcast People Are the Answer, I learned about what Rose dubs the concept of collective illusions, which happen when people in a group conform due to potentially incorrect perceptions (i.e., thinking everyone else agrees with an idea, when this may not be true).
7. Are They a Small- or Large-Scale Organization?
While many of these tips encourage moving away from traditional profit-driven models, many large companies can implement and achieve large-scale change under their own power and volition. The right big-business partner provides the opportunity to showcase what large-scale institutional change can look like and can fund social equity initiatives.
8. Are They Future-Ready?
Are your potential collaborators forward-facing and ready for the next stage of advocacy? Do they use an array of outlets like podcasting, videos or metaverse events to reach audiences? Ensure efforts will have a lasting impact by partnering with organizations and entrepreneurs ready for the next cannabis social justice movement.
The Decade Ahead in Collaborative Social Impact Work
Looking back on the last decade poses the question: What will the industry look like in ten years?
I hope the advocates who started the industry and their social-equity-focused values rise to the top again. It’s a tall ask, but today’s consumer is thoughtful enough to see this. As cannabis becomes more ubiquitous, it will be easier to differentiate truly impact-driven companies from those only focused on dollars. Hopefully, as more cannabis industry laws are created, there will continue to be a focus on structuring to maximize social equity and benefit communities the drug war has harmed most.
In the coming decade, I hope for a more collaborative, just and mutually beneficial industry; all that’s required is a nation of social-justice-minded entrepreneurs building it.