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#TimesUp in the Cannabis Industry: How Marijuana Can Flip the Script on Workplace Harassment

The cannabis industry is primed to build a corporate culture with no tolerance for harassment.

As I’ve watched the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements sweep across our nation in recent months, it’s become increasingly clear that America’s burgeoning cannabis industry has a unique opportunity to set itself apart from the many mainstream industries plagued by pervasive sexual harassment, bullying and gender disparities.

It’s not that these problems don’t exist in the cannabis industry; unfortunately, these issues permeate workplaces everywhere. The key difference here is the legal cannabis industry is still so new — we have the rare chance to stamp out toxic workplace practices and behaviors before they become ingrained in our wider industry culture.

Once a corporate culture calcifies, behaviors and attitudes settle into the norm, and it becomes much more difficult to enact any changes. Cannabis-related companies are still shaping their respective workplace cultures, and should be consciously developing healthier gender, sex and power dynamics across the board. If we do it right, I’m optimistic we can avoid the pitfalls of persistent workplace harassment that are becoming increasingly evident as brave women and men from numerous industries come forward and speak out about their experiences.

It’s important to consider the makeup of the nascent cannabis industry. According to data compiled in 2017 by Marijuana Business Daily, 27 percent of executives in the cannabis industry are female. That’s more than US businesses as a whole, where women represent approximately 23 percent of executive roles. And the cannabis industry workforce skews young. In Colorado, for example, 66 percent of cannabis industry workers are under the age of 30, according to a 2017 survey conducted by researchers at Colorado State University and the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health. We know that younger generations are more likely than older ones to stand up to sexual harassment and report inappropriate behavior in the workplace – another factor that positions our industry for leadership in the movement to end sexual harassment.

Our efforts to create safe, inclusive workplaces for all employees must also be part of a larger industry-wide push to institute a culture that prioritizes mutual respect among all groups and individuals. Business leadership must shape a culture that does not tolerate racism, prejudice, sexism, classism, harassment or bullying of any kind.

Many executives and managers, even those with the best of intentions, fail to institute healthy cultures in their workplaces because they simply don’t think about it on an ongoing basis. Corporate leaders often fail to notice the level of sexual harassment and bullying taking place in their companies because they’re just not paying attention, and they’re not prioritizing the prevention of such behavior. All too frequently, leadership only takes action to fix these problems once they’ve built up and exploded into a massive legal or public relations fiasco. Clearly, this type of reactive approach isn’t doing these companies or their employees any favors.

We need proactive approaches.

Executives in the cannabis industry need to lead by example, setting a clear tone for our companies. We mustn’t participate in “locker-room talk” or tolerate it, and we can’t be passive when we hear inappropriate language used in the workplace. Our employees watch what we do, they hear what we say, and they follow our lead. So we need to be vigilant about calling out sexism and harassment and foster an environment where every employee is encouraged to do the same. And this must be a conscious, ongoing effort.

Cannabis executives must also actively seek to promote gender diversity by hiring and promoting more female employees in all aspects of the business, and to create safe workplaces by establishing comprehensive human resources departments where employees’ concerns are taken seriously and acted upon. For some companies, this may even mean hiring an organizational ombudsman to ensure independent, impartial and confidential investigation and resolution of employee misconduct complaints — a move my chain of Medicine Man dispensaries is currently contemplating.

For those who aren’t swayed by the ethical arguments raised by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it’s important to underscore that establishing healthy, inclusive working environments with greater gender diversity is also good for businesses’ bottom lines. Sexual harassment in the workplace leads to low morale, job turnover, employee absenteeism and decreased productivity, which all cost employers a lot. And of course, that’s on top of legal settlements.

The cannabis industry has always been rooted in the struggle for greater social justice. We’ve always been ones to stand up to unjust laws, to buckle antiquated norms and to define our own path. And while our initial focus was largely centered around issues relating to drug-policy reform, we now find ourselves at a moment in time where we can and must earnestly incorporate the struggles for sexual and gender equality into our fold as well.


Andy WilliamsAndy Williams

Andy Williams

Andy Williams is the President and CEO of Medicine Man in Colorado. He is veteran of the US Army, and served three years as a Cavalry Scout in the 3rd Infantry Division. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo, CO. Andy has worked in a wide range of manufacturing industries as an industrial engineer, and in leadership positions. He is a lifelong entrepreneur. In 2009 the Ogden letter was published stating the Department of Justice would not utilize their resources to prosecute those individuals following state marijuana laws. That was the call to a new opportunity in the marijuana industry for Andy and his brother, Pete Williams. In December of 2009 they launched Medicine Man with the concept of being the Costco of marijuana. Six years later Medicine Man is now a $17 million a year corporation and has branched out to assist start up marijuana companies and grow facilities across the country with their consulting company, Medicine Man Technologies. They are known as industry leaders throughout the United States.

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