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Sustaining Equity through Economic Uncertainty
by Evelyn LaChapelle

Black Lives Matter is a powerful movement against the persistent structural racism endured by Black people in American society. The protests that have swept every state in the country have made it crystal clear that anti-racism and social change are active, not passive, responsibilities.

In addition to its call for individuals to stand up against racism and police brutality, the movement has made a clear appeal to businesses to walk the walk on racial justice. Despite the tough economic conditions that all businesses are weathering, now is a uniquely important time to have meaningful conversations about equity programs, particularly in the cannabis industry.

Rain or Shine, the Value of Equity

There is broad agreement within the cannabis industry that equity is important. Given the devastating impact of the War on Drugs, which disproportionately targeted working class communities of color, the new legal cannabis industry owes a debt to those who bore the brutal consequences of cannabis enforcement.

However, this consensus is not evenly put into practice. Whereas some states and cities have more stringent equity requirements for legal cannabis businesses, others have very little, and no national standard has been put in place. As a result, it has mostly fallen to individual businesses to develop and uphold their commitment to equity, with some going further than others. In times of economic hardship, this gap can grow, as companies are tempted to pull back and focus on other aspects of the business.

In reality, equity programs bring in knowledge and experience that are crucial to helping cannabis companies innovate and problem solve during difficult times. This connection with the history, culture, and consumers that define both the legal and illegal industries are invaluable and should not be underestimated. When the going gets tough, these connections can become the life raft that keeps a company afloat.

Even more importantly, times of economic strain and uncertainty are key opportunities for companies to emphasize and recommit to equity. As the Black Lives Matter movement has clearly shown, an ‘on again off again’ approach to racial justice cannot achieve the depth and staying power needed to make a real difference for communities of color. Change and progress will come from commitment, through thick and thin, to creating a better world – and cannabis industry – for all.

Recognizing that equity programs should not be overlooked during times of economic hardship, how can companies make a real impact on a limited budget?

Walk the Walk

A strong equity program starts from the perspective of action. Before using it as a talking point or marketing tool, take a close look at the internal and external structure that your business relies on, and determine how diversity and equity programs can be implemented within them.

Internally, this requires an active effort to integrate diverse and marginalized people into your business and community. Social equity is about more than just diverse faces in high places. In addition to supporting Black ownership and training diverse leadership, look at all roles within your company. Event planners, accountants, IT professionals and more come from all backgrounds. A systematic approach to equity means considering it at every rung of the ladder.

Hand in hand with this approach, cultivating diversity requires a corporate culture that values and uplifts all employees. Culture is led by example – leadership should understand and share a commitment to equity, and actively communicate this to their teams.

This internal work rarely requires expensive consultants or complex restructuring initiatives. Rather, it takes time and leadership: a commitment to valuing, understanding and building trust with your employees and with the communities that you’re working to reach. With this approach, the results will soon speak for themselves.

Externally, build a strong equity program by cultivating a vocal and intentional presence in the cannabis community. On one hand, focus on building relationships with social equity networks in the industry. For example, prioritize relationships with Black owned and social equity-focused dispensaries, brands and providers. Offer the resources that you’re able to spare, whether that means direct partnership and financial support, or free publicity and marketing, networking or knowledge sharing.

On the other hand, use your voice to educate and reinforce the values of equity and diversity in the wider cannabis industry. Just like the internal work, this relies on leading by example. Serve as a guidepost for other companies and industry stakeholders, and contribute to an industry culture of accountability and action.

External equity programs are about more than just putting money into the right places. Sure, the bigger the budget the better, but during tough economic times it’s also the commitment that counts. Are you ready to show up for your partners and community through other means? Being prepared to dedicate your time, open your space and share your expertise creates the critical foundation for a successful external equity program, rain or shine.

Equity programs can be powerful tools for innovation, recruiting, marketing and more, leaving a sustained impact on a company’s bottom line. But at the end of the day, the key to running a successful program is to see beyond these benefits and focus on the broader impact. A systemic problem requires a systemic solution, with dedication to leadership, education, community involvement and shared responsibility, and with each company doing as much as they can with the resources they have. With enormous odds to overcome, this shared commitment is a true cornerstone for the long term success of the cannabis industry.

 

Oakland, CA native Evelyn LaChapelle, Community Engagement Manager, Vertosa is an experienced events coordinator and community liaison, who utilizes her professional position within the legal cannabis industry to advocate for restorative justice. She is an active member of the Last Prisoner Project, dedicated to redressing the past and continuing harms caused by the war on cannabis through clemency and reentry programs.

Evelyn has overcome her personal experience with the War on Drugs and found success in the legal cannabis industry through her work at infusion technology company Vertosa, where she manages all public and industry events and spearheads Vertosa’s partnership with the Last Prisoner Project as well as hosting “The Heart of Cannabis” on IGTV.

Through community engagement, Evelyn works to create a more transparent and accessible industry that encourages minorities to penetrate all aspects of the business, including in the labs and the executive offices. She has also made it her goal to create a real second chance for men and women being released from prison through her work with both Vertosa and the Last Prisoner Project.

 

Evelyn LaChapelleEvelyn LaChapelle

Evelyn LaChapelle

Oakland, CA native Evelyn LaChapelle, Community Engagement Manager, Vertosa, is an experienced events coordinator and community liaison, who utilizes her professional position within the legal cannabis industry to advocate for restorative justice. She is an active member of the Last Prisoner Project, dedicated to redressing the past and continuing harms caused by the war on cannabis through clemency and reentry programs.

Evelyn has overcome her personal experience with the War on Drugs and found success in the legal cannabis industry through her work at infusion technology company Vertosa, where she manages all public and industry events and spearheads Vertosa’s partnership with the Last Prisoner Project as well as hosting “The Heart of Cannabis” on IGTV.

Through community engagement, Evelyn works to create a more transparent and accessible industry that encourages minorities to penetrate all aspects of the business, including in the labs and the executive offices. She has also made it her goal to create a real second chance for men and women being released from prison through her work with both Vertosa and the Last Prisoner Project.

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