Despite the rapid expansion of the medical marijuana business in Oklahoma, there are more Black and brown people imprisoned for selling cannabis on the street than there are heading the businesses now making huge sums from selling it in the current legalized environment.
Cannabis Equity and Economics was the topic for the June 11 edition of JR/Now. Interim Editor Joe Dowd spoke with Dr. Bridget Williams, owner of Green Harvest Heal; Kevin Greene, vice president of the Cleveland School of Cannabis; and Social Equity and Inclusion Consultant Michael Fields on the subject, pulling apart the complex reasons minority populations are underrepresented in the cannabis industry and what can be done about it.
Propaganda and misinformation have distorted the general public’s perception of Black people’s relationship to cannabis – even within the Black community itself, each of the panelists agreed. Williams said she has been meeting with church groups to answer questions, particularly for members of the older generation.
“What I find is the Black community is very hesitant to grab hold of it because of our past,” Williams said. “Because of how crack cocaine destroyed our communities, because of how even street selling of cannabis has put so many of our loved ones into prisons. The white community is grabbing hold of this thing. They’re using CBD. It’s the CEO, it’s the soccer mom, everyone’s into cannabis and they’re proud of it and they’re excited about it.”
People need information from someone they trust in order to make informed decisions about the medical use of marijuana.
“You need a Black physician to do that, because you trust your own,” Fields said. “The only way you get people on board is to have them at the table. You need to build that trust.”
Yet, Black physicians are still a scant quantity, and the percentage of Black physicians hasn’t increased much or at all since the 1940s, Williams said. Much of the Black community has experienced a troubled relationship with traditional Western medicine, as cultural misunderstandings and insensitivities can complicate discussions regarding pain, symptoms and diagnoses with their physicians.
“The Black community is pulling away from our traditional medical community; they are looking for options,” Williams said. “Some 31% of African Americans seek some form of alternative medicine simply because they feel disenfranchised by the current medical community.”
“One of the church members stood up and shared her experience and that she is a medical cannabis patient, and the anxiety in her eyes when she stood up, I could see that she was very scared to out herself in front of her church community,” Williams said. “It made a big difference in lowering boundaries and having productive conversation.”
The industry itself can work to make a difference by making efforts toward inclusion a part of doing business in the industry, Fields said.
“Cultural equity has to be a part of the fabric of their business and part of their thinking,” Fields said. “Every license holder should be responsible for doing something in the social equity arena, whether it’s education, whether it’s employment, whether it’s the wraparound services – that should be lockstep with your license.”
Inclusion benefits the industry as a whole, as the talent pool widens and more and better ideas can be incorporated.
“If we’re not going to allow the industry to have all of the talented people able to participate, that means we’re never going to see the industry maximized to its full potential,” Greene said.
The more people are educated regarding the realities of the cannabis industry, the more people can be reached, the panelists said.
“We’re looking to bring them into the circle and provide them with the tools to go back to their communities and be successful in talking about cannabis, talking about the economics, the jobs potential, because if they get that message from their own they are more likely to join in,” Fields said.
For such a large industry, cannabis is still driven from the grassroots level and surprisingly tends to attract people who are at least as interested in wellness as they are in the financial potential of the problem, Greene said.
“When our capitalistic endeavors and aspirations and our humanity line up, that is what changes the world,” Greene said.