Panelists and moderate alike yuk it up during Thursday’s Grown In webinar, “How established companies are approaching social equity”. Credit: Zoom / Grown In

A precious few predominately white-led and owned U.S. cannabis corporations today generate billions of dollars selling weed, a practice that for generations has put mostly Black and brown dealers behind bars.

This bifurcation of bud-based business practices and outcomes, said industry veterans Denavvia Mojet and Akele Parnell during a Grown In webinar, is why equity should be a core value of all licensed operators.

“We want to embed equity in our departments and not just in our social equity plan,” said Mojet, a legal compliance manager at Michigan-based vertically-integrated operator Fluresh LLC and executive director of advocacy organization Black & Brown Cannabis Guild. “You have to make equity a core value by being intentional about creating opportunities for people who may not always navigate the equity process evenly.”

Parnell, who began his cannabis career in 2018 as in-house counsel for Chicago-based multi-state operator Green Thumb Industries and now serves as Head of Equity Partnerships for Boston-based cannabis delivery firm Lantern, said that “it takes a variety of stakeholders within a marketplace” and that a highly-regulated capitalist structure such as cannabis should make the equitable distribution of licenses a key part of the plan. Diversified ownership, he added, is also good for business.

“You have to figure out how social equity ties into a business model,” said Parnell, who is also part of groups that hold an Illinois craft grow license as well as provisional licensure for Illinois retail. “More conscious consumers want to see minority-owned brands.”

Beyond a menu of product options, added Mojet, shoppers spending their disposable income on legal cannabis will care about who is profiting from those transactions.

“Just as often as they are searching for the highest THC or terpenes,” she said, “it is about choosing a business that is women or minority-owned.”

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.