Minority Cannabis Ownership Negligible in Colorado, but New Social Equity Law Aims to Spur Progress

Originally Published on MJBizdaily.com
By Bart Schaneman | Aug. 27, 2020

As is true in other mature cannabis programs, Colorado falls short in minority representation among business owners.

But advocates and industry leaders are trying to correct that – a difficult task in a highly competitive and well-established market – and hope social equity legislation Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed into law at the end of June will help the cause.

“Black and brown business owners were left out,” said Wanda James, president of Denver cannabis company Simply Pure. “This is an opportunity for America to recover, rebuild and repair a lot of the injustices it has done.”

Bill creates progress In early June, a study commissioned by Denver officials found that 75% of the city’s cannabis business owners were white and only 6% of both marijuana business owners and employees were Black.

On the heels of that study, Polis signed the bill that issues pardons for prior marijuana convictions, lays out how social equity license holders will qualify for mentorship programs and offers financial incentives to help get their businesses off the ground.

House Bill 20-1424 established that an individual would be eligible to participate in the social equity program if:

The applicant or an immediate family member was arrested or convicted for a marijuana offense. The applicant lived in a designated economically distressed community for a minimum of 15 years between 1980 and 2010. Their income is at or below an amount to be determined. Sarah Woodson, executive director of The Color of Cannabis, a Denver advocacy group working on social equity in the industry, said that, even with the established definitions, much work remains to be done.

“The implementation is getting a little tricky – things can be interpreted in different ways,” she said. “But we know the industry really does have a desire to have social equity.”

Under the new rules, according to Woodson, the tentative timeline is for regulators to accept social equity applications in January.

The new regulations will allow applicants to participate in an “accelerator program” in which existing cannabis companies in several sectors, including retail, cultivation and manufacturing, will mentor new social equity business owners.

Woodson doesn’t anticipate the state will receive more than 100 applications, and those who win licenses will face an uphill battle in Colorado’s hotly competitive cannabis industry.

“We know the market is saturated,” she said.

Woodson’s organization is pushing to have fees for social equity applicants waived at the state level.

‘Working for crumbs’

Kelly Perez, a Denver-based cannabis social equity advocate and co-founder of kindColorado and Cannabis Doing Good, is focused on three core areas:

Undoing the harm of the war on drugs. Creating pathways for those hurt by the war on drugs to participate in Colorado’s adult-use cannabis market. Making economic justice a centerpiece of the industry. Perez is not convinced the changes in the program will create sufficient minority participation and ownership.

“I want economic generational wealth-building in the Black and brown community,” Perez said. “And I want cannabis to do that.”

The new legislation is “a drop in the bucket when the big companies have millions and millions of dollars,” she added. “The opportunity is quite limited.”

Taking into account the competitive market, part of the conversation has focused on adding new license types for social equity applicants to own delivery or hospitality businesses so they won’t have to compete with major, established companies.

But that opportunity is “quite limited,” Perez said.

Woodson agreed on the delivery issue, noting “there are some things that have to change” to make such licenses equitable.

With third-party delivery, the driver is limited to charging a flat rate for each delivery, so volume is the only way to make money, she said.

Woodson envisions a model where social equity businesses would be able to sell via direct delivery straight from a warehouse.

But it’s easy to see that the established industry, particularly the retailers, would chafe against that idea because it would add more competition.

“If it’s social equity only, I don’t feel like there should be too much opposition,” Woodson said. “Anything else is really inequitable – you’re working for crumbs.”

Making the grade

John Bailey, organizer of the Black Cannabis Equity Initiative (BCEI), a Denver nonprofit advocacy group, is focused on joint ventures.

The professional mentorships offered under the new accelerator program are an example.

He’d also like to see a moratorium on new licenses so the market doesn’t become even more competitive. He pointed to Oregon, where revoked cannabis licenses have been made into social equity licenses.

“You have to take into consideration that (minorities) weren’t participants in the saturation in the first place,” Bailey said.

And while he recognizes that the existing businesses shouldn’t be penalized because they were ready to go when the market began, there was no social equity at that point, so how do you correct a wrong, Bailey asked.

“Let’s recognize there are systemic barriers,” he said.

With BCEI, Bailey has created a community report card that analyzes a cannabis company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

BCEI will grade a company’s efforts as they relate to Black community outreach, relationships and opportunities.

The areas of grading will be:

• Employment opportunities. • Relationships with Black vendors. • Businesses and media. • Partnership opportunities with Black community organizations related to investments, sponsorship and contributions.

James at Simply Pure said she’s seen an increase in Colorado residents seeking out Black-owned businesses to support them.

“I believe America is at a paradigm shift,” she said. “It’s time to level the playing field.”

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Cannabis Doing Good Helps Companies Craft Approaches to Racial Justice, Sustainability and Social Responsibility

Originally Published on CannabisBusinessTimes.com
By Melissa Schiller | Aug. 14, 2020

The company helps cannabis businesses build and refine community engagement programs to raise awareness and contribute to causes they believe in.

When Kelly Perez and Courtney Mathis launched their consulting company, kindColorado, six years ago to help cannabis companies build social responsibility and social equity programs, they quickly realized that more was needed to advance the equity and racial justice conversation in the industry.

Through working with businesses to build their community engagement programs, Perez and Mathis were able to slowly introduce discussions about ways to more directly address equity. Then, two years ago, the duo went a step further to launch Cannabis Doing Good, a separate company dedicated to helping cannabis businesses craft their own unique approaches to racial justice, sustainability and social responsibility.

The goal is threefold, Mathis says. First, Cannabis Doing Good aims to build a network of purpose-driven companies through the launch of a membership program and a consumer-facing business directory.

“For example, if you’re in Illinois and you’re looking to shop a black-owned business, women-owned business or a LGBTQA business, you can do that,” she says. “If you’re looking for a brand that has sustainable packaging or you’re looking for a brand that contributes to your local food bank, you can find companies in our purpose-driven business directory [and] use your dollars to support them.”

The second goal, Mathis says, is to showcase companies that are supporting equity through a Cannabis Doing Good awards program.

Finally, Cannabis Doing Good aims to set the standard for social justice, sustainability and social responsibility in cannabis.

Earlier this year, the company launched a giving initiative to raise $10,000 to support those most negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative was successful, raising more than the $10,000 goal, but it showed Perez and Mathis that Cannabis Doing Good needed a much larger mechanism to enable the cannabis industry to support the causes they believe in.

“We needed to make it easy, [and] we really wanted it to be focused on racial justice,” Mathis says.

With the help of Sensible Colorado as its fiscal sponsor, Cannabis Doing Good launched the Cannabis Impact Fund, a nonprofit arm that allows companies to pledge 1% of sales or profit to support six organizations that are exclusively focused on racial justice for the next 12 months.

“There are folks … that have been doing work in racial justice, social justice and equity for decades, and we think it’s really important to leverage the cannabis community to support them in masse,” Mathis says. “We think we’ve made it as easy as humanly possible to pledge 1%, or they can donate.”

In the future, Perez and Mathis hope to open the Cannabis Impact Fund up to support other causes, including sustainability, homelessness and hunger.

“The cannabis community can always point to the Impact Fund to say, ‘Look what we did, look what we’re doing and look at our commitment to show up for our neighbors,’ which I think is really cool,” Mathis says.

“We in cannabis aren’t always invited to participate in nonprofits and movements in general,” Perez adds. “The Cannabis Impact Fund is really the first of its kind in the country for the cannabis industry to step up in a concerted way to join the movement for black lives [and] to support the organizations within cannabis that have been working on social justice since the movement started.”

Embracing Cannabis Social Responsibility Another way Cannabis Doing Good helps the cannabis industry support their communities is by fine-tuning their approach to social responsibility. Each company’s approach must be unique to benefit both the business and its local community.

Perez and Mathis have never felt that corporate social responsibility in the traditional sense was a good fit for the cannabis industry, but they have embraced what has become known as “cannabis social responsibility,” which often includes community engagement plans.

“For us, it was, how do you see the licensing requirements?” Perez says. “How do you differentiate your brand? How do you really become an asset in the community that the community knows about? … What are the actual things that are supporting people and the planet in this community, and how can this business pitch in and be a part of it? By doing that, you’re also engaging your employees, you are improving the culture of your company [and] you are building cannabis’s reputation out in the community, as well as your brand.”

Over the years, Perez and Mathis have seen many companies doing good things for their communities, and Perez points to Colorado-based Terrapin Care Station as a business worth noting.

The company hired Cannabis Doing Good to help them take the efforts they were already involved in and create a more unified approach to community engagement.

RELATED: 10 Questions with Terrapin Care Station

“When we sat down with them, a couple things rose to the top: basic human needs, veterans, homelessness and prison reentry—that connection between criminal legal reform and cannabis,” Perez says. “We crafted … Terrapin for the People. … It’s really good work to be proud of.”

Terrapin for the People allows the company to collaborate with local social justice programs and efforts in the community to help advance their missions.

“They are contributing, not only with donations but also serving on the board and helping to be a community member that solves community problems,” Perez says.

There are many ways that businesses can support social and racial justice, she adds, but creating equitable opportunities in the cannabis space often centers on three main efforts: repairing the harm done by the war on drugs through reentry, expungement and criminal justice reform; creating business opportunities for those impacted by prohibition through funding and training; and finding ways for a legal and regulated cannabis market to benefit the communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.

“If you’re a person of color and you’re in cannabis, you may be that example of social equity,” Perez says. “You could be that person who’s participating in the industry and who’s reaching back and making sure there are opportunities for others, highlighting inequities in the system.”

More Good to Come

Perez and Mathis say they’ve set out to change the world and have taken on many difficult issues in the process.

“Racial justice is not an easy check-off box,” Perez says. “But contributing 1% of your revenue or product sales or being a founding member for the [Cannabis Impact Fund], that’s a statement on the national stage about what cannabis is and what we care about. That is participating in a movement that is the largest in our lifetime. We take some hard things like environmental degradation and find a way … to carve out what the right thing is to do and then make it easy for businesses [in an industry] where nothing is easy.”

“We continue to create pathways and mechanisms for the cannabis industry to show up,” Mathis adds. “If we can make the right thing the easy thing, I think we’ll have done a really good job and then have impact to show for it. … I think that if we can look back and say, we have contributed to community health, social equity and the conversations around sustainability, and we’ve created a pathway for cannabis businesses to participate in a way that’s really easy, I think we would be really, really proud of that.”

Cannabis is still a new industry, Perez adds, meaning policy and business practices largely have yet to be established—and Cannabis Doing Good aims to set the bar high.

“I think this is going to be the first time in our lifetime that we’ll have an industry step up and create some of the social change they hope to see,” Mathis says.

“We have at our fingertips this new [opportunity] to craft it in a way that does support communities, that is racially just, that does have opportunities for women and people who haven’t had opportunity,” Perez adds. “Why on earth wouldn’t we take it?"

Read Original Article Here.

End 4/20 Shame: A Dispensary, a Church and an Unlikely Partnership

Originally Published on Dopemagazine.com
By Kelly Vo | March 5, 2018

Cannabis and church: not two items that typically go together. But, in Denver, Amazing Grace Community Church and Lightshade dispensary are working to change that. In December, as part of Lightshade’s corporate and local-level giving initiatives, the dispensary’s Federal Heights location partnered with neighboring Amazing Grace Community Church to give food to people in need.

Cannabis and church: not two items that typically go together. But, in Denver, Amazing Grace Community Church and Lightshade dispensary are working to change that.

In December, as part of Lightshade’s corporate and local-level giving initiatives, the dispensary’s Federal Heights location partnered with neighboring Amazing Grace Community Church to give food to people in need. To do this, Lightshade supported the church’s food pantry as well as its bi-monthly meal service through financial contributions and volunteer hours. And starting in January, Lightshade agreed to fully fund the church’s food bank.

It’s what most would consider an unlikely partnership, but one that is making a big difference in the Federal Heights community. It’s also a partnership that makes sense for both Amazing Grace Community Church and Lightshade.

It all started in 2011 with the creation of the Pastor’s Pantry as a way for Amazing Grace Community Church to help out local neighbors that needed food. From there, it quickly evolved into offering hot meals for free and, under its new name Dinner for a Dollar, feeds as many as 150 people each night.

However, its quick growth meant that it needed help, and that’s where Lightshade came in.

“Our friends at Lightshade found out about these programs and sent representatives to a meal. An immediate partnership was forged, and Lightshade began to donate a portion of their profits to feed the hungry of the community,” explained Pastor Kent Replogle. “But their support did not stop there. Employees of Lightshade have come to the Dinner for a Dollar to serve and meet those that show up for dinner. These are people that really care about the community and once they have witnessed the need are willing to jump in and help out.”

However, that didn’t mean it was always an easy partnership. At first, the church and Pastor Kent were hesitant about accepting donations from a cannabis organization. But they quickly realized that accepting help from the cannabis industry wasn’t any different from accepting donations from a bar owner or an employee selling tobacco products. So, in the end, any concern was mitigated, especially after meeting and working with Lightshade.

“The donations from Lightshade are coming from a place of care and concern for those that are in need, and we have never been asked to publicize their donation from the pulpit of the church,” Pastor Kent said. “Lightshade filled a huge gap in our ability to serve those that are hungry. It takes over a thousand pounds of food a day to fill the hunger needs of this community, and the ability to get a sustainable food source is always a challenge. Through the gifts from Lightshade, we are coming closer to meeting those needs.”

As for Lightshade, working with Amazing Grace Community Church was a natural fit. They found the church through their partnership with kindColorado, an organization that connects communities and cannabis businesses to give back. Lightshade’s goal was to partner with a non-profit focused on hunger relief and who was ingrained in the community.

“Amazing Grace checked the boxes and had little to no reservations about working with a business in the cannabis industry,” said Shannon Brooks, the VP of Marketing for Lightshade. “Pastor Kent is a kind and generous man, and a sincere pleasure to work with. He has accepted us with open arms and without judgment.” So far, it’s been an incredible partnership. Beyond regular donations and volunteer hours, Lightshade teamed up with Amazing Grace Community Church to serve Thanksgiving dinner to those in need. And that’s just the start of how Lightshade makes a difference in their communities.

Giving back is a huge part of the Lightshade culture. They were the first Colorado dispensary to institute a Cannabis Social Responsibility program that looks for local initiatives to support, and they take their responsibilities seriously.

Lightshade has an ongoing partnership with The Gathering Place, a daytime drop-in center in Denver service women, children, and transgender individuals who experience extreme poverty or homelessness. Each month, Lightshade volunteers to pay for, serve, and clean up lunch for their members. They also work with their career center to help match members with open job positions within the cannabis industry. They’re also a major donor for The Gathering Place’s annual fundraiser.

In addition, Lightshade works with Grant Street Reach, Senior Support Services, Denver Urban Gardens, and Colorado Homeless Families. For each organization, Lightshade offers their time and funds to make a difference.

“We feel that it is our duty to give back to the communities who have been so kind to allow us to conduct business as their neighbors,” Shannon explained. “We feel that it is important to be an integral part of the communities that we serve and to help elevate the collective good of its residents. We have skin in the game. In addition, we want to instill a spirit of giving in our employees by creating opportunities for them to engage in charitable work.”

So, while it might seem that a church and the cannabis industry have little in common, when it comes to helping those in need, they’re on the same page. “Taking care of our communities is very much a part of the cannabis culture,” said Shannon.

Read Original Article Here.