We had the opportunity to interview Jacob Plowden, Co-founder of the Cultural Cannabis Association (“CCA”), regarding the diversity challenges that the cannabis industry faces. The CCA is New York-based organization founded in 2016 that promotes involvement from underprivileged communities in the legalized cannabis industry. This interview supplements our previously published article titled, “The Federal Status of Cannabis – Is it Whitewashing the Industry?” https://kinnermcgowan.com/cannabis-compliance/federal-status-of-cannabis/.
In your opinion, why are minorities so under-represented within the medical and adult-use cannabis industry?
Well from my experience are there are a few such as being barred from financially establishing themselves within the industry due high costs of licensing and operating costs. Another would be information, a lot of minorities are uninformed about legal cannabis/hemp networking events or cannot afford the expensive meet-ups and often are left searching for a platform to learn more about the plant. Lastly would be fear of course. Many minorities have either received drugs charges and are barred from even working in the industry. Too many communities of color have witnessed the Drug War’s damages firsthand and they’d rather avoid the plant all together.
Why do you think it is important for minorities to have representation in the industry and equal access to the opportunities created by the industry?
The War on Drugs not only locked up and ruined lives but has spread horrific propaganda. African American communities have been greatly misinformed about the benefits of cannabis and even hemp. Many people of color have lost their lives, families, jobs, access to financial aid, the right to vote, and now cannot even work in the legal cannabis field. The people who have been the most harmed by the Drug War should get the first say in what the cannabis industry’s progression should look like. It doesn’t make sense that someone can go to jail for a few grams in Harlem but meanwhile in legalized states like Oregon and Washington, people are raking in millions.
Are there mechanisms which state and municipal legislatures and regulators can utilize to alleviate the racial disparity in the cannabis space?
I’d like to think so but it’s often a challenge finding anything of note. I’m sure you took notice of what happened with Maryland’s medical program? That program was meant to be more inclusive and still no people of color were chosen for dispensary licenses. Next year is midterm elections so I feel now is the time to start holding politicians to an extremely high standards regarding cannabis or hemp legalization. I know that a politician cannot ignore his constituents when they are in huge numbers demanding change. I do hope more states can take the approach as more states legalize to expunge or seal low level drug offenses in order for more access to the industry. I’m not saying provide handouts, but resources do need to be provided for those in low income neighborhoods to access medical programs and legalized cannabis for economic recovery.
Can you briefly tell us about the initiatives Cannabis Cultural Association is working on to promote awareness of the diversity issue within the industry and/or outside of the industry?
The CCA was founded by a diverse group of people and we have made ourselves known in a relatively small amount of time that are all about ensuring that industry is not closed off for people who look like us. The CCA is a nonprofit group that been showcasing events at Newman Ferrara LLC in New York City educating about the cultural history of cannabis, veterans and cannabis, entrepreneurship and cannabis, and most recently medical programs and cannabis. We often have prominent cannabis and drug policy specialists speaking at our events such as Dr. Uma Dhanabalan, Takiya Anthony-Price, Dr. Bernard Lee, Sean Judge of New England’s Veteran’s Alliance, Lex Pelger of Psymposia, and Mike Lewis of Growing Warriors. We don’t just provide information but reasons why we need more POCs, LGBTs, veterans, and elderly enthralled about the future of cannabis. We provide the space necessary where people can see that cannabis and hemp can heal the wounds of the Drug War.
We are currently working on legal sealing program titled Project FREE LEAF with several law firms. We are also working on a photography series titled, “Cannanonymous” that will be telling stories of those who are trying to break away from the societal stigma of being a cannabis user. We also have a podcast titled, “The Closet-ED Stoner” that takes a subject then we discuss how their cannabis enthusiasm in their day to day lives relates to them being either open or hidden about their cannabis usage. We are trying to show the communities we all come from that the industry is not some set criteria and that the industry needs to be as diverse as the plant.
In five years do you think we will still be having this conversation about the lack of diversity in the cannabis industry?
I hope not. I hope that in five years that I don’t have to scream for my people to have access to this wondrous plant. I’m hoping that politicians see the errors of their ways. I’m hoping that we stop demonizing citizens for illegally healing themselves. I hope that I don’t have to see my brothers and sisters locked behind bars, losing opportunities at college and access to the legalized spaces of cannabis/hemp. If we are still having this conversation in 5 years, then we still have a LONG way to go and this fight is far from over.