Social equity in cannabis refers to efforts made during the legalization process that attempt to restore economic benefits to communities that have been historically disadvantaged by over-policing.
Several states that have legalized cannabis for adult-use have instituted some form of a social equity program, which typically allows people with cannabis convictions to have first priority in obtaining industry licenses.
The City of Los Angeles defines social equity as a plan that, “promote[s] equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry in order to decrease disparities in life outcomes for marginalized communities, and to address the disproportionate impacts of the War on Drugs in those communities.”
In New York State, the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) program was created to provide equitable access for individuals that were also disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. The CAURD program provides mentorship, technical assistance, and low-interest loans to eligible participants in order to help them start their own dispensary.
Britini Tantalo is one of those CAURD applicants. Having been arrested at 17, her future was off to a rocky start.
Emerald Media interviewed Tantalo to learn more about her, how cannabis has impacted her life both positively and negatively, and what it means to be a social equity applicant in the state of New York.
Emerald Media: Tell us the first time you smoked or used cannabis.
Britini Tantalo: The first time that I consumed cannabis I was around 14-15 years old. I remember having a lot of anxiety growing up due to the dynamics and circumstances built around the mentality of the town I lived in, and the racial adversity I was experiencing.
Smoking cannabis calmed my anxiety and also helped me sleep at night. It really aided my mental and emotional stability during a very hard time in my life as an adolescent.
EM: How did you come to enter the cannabis industry?
We started with little money and one product. We drove up and down the east coast knocking on retail store doors, [selling] our product one-by-one. We built strong relationships with other small businesses and grew to now service hundreds of retail stores throughout the country.
We sell all equipment and supplies needed to facilitate small home grows to large commercial grows. Our store gives us the opportunity to educate, facilitate and bridge the gap within our local community to help build the cannabis industry in the Finger Lakes region.
I am also a New York State CAURD applicant [for] Flower City Dispensary, a minority woman-owned business. [I’m also the] co-founder and CEO of the New York CAURD Coalition, an organization geared to providing and facilitating resources to NYS CAURD applicants, and current license holders, with plans to expand to social equity applicants.
EM: Have you been arrested for cannabis? How did it impact your life?
BT: I do carry a cannabis conviction..and it’s something that until recent years, I have always been ashamed of.
I grew up in a very rural area outside the city of Rochester, NY. The population had little-to-no diversity, with my family being one of maybe three-to-five minority families within the whole town. I knew I looked different at a very young age and unfortunately was made to feel this difference for most of my adolescent years.
As I became a teenager and could now drive, I noticed that I was being targeted and harassed excessively by local sheriffs and town cops. I was constantly being pulled over, questioned and searched. I would experience extreme anxiety and paranoia just going to the store because I was always being pulled over.
One night when I was 17 years old, I was driving home less than one mile from my parents house, when a local town cop pulled me over. He pulled me out of my car and then proceeded to search my vehicle. He found my cannabis and charged me with it. I can remember being so scared and had so much worry about the shame this was going to bring my family. I was then published in the local county newspaper for my cannabis charge.
You have to remember, there was no social media at this time, and everyone in that small community read the paper. I had trouble finding jobs in town for after school, friends were no longer allowed to associate with me, and even school teachers casted judgment towards me.
The amount of trauma this caused me, I cannot express in words. Some of the most difficult times of any person’s life are their teenage years as we search to find ourselves.
When a community of people rejects you, or judges you, and then acts on that, it’s very traumatic for any adolescent. The stigma that was now attached to me was also attached to my family, and with that came shame for many years.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
BT: The idea for MetaVega Corporation really derived from a need in the market, and a desire for Jayson and myself to enter the legal cannabis space.
A lot of the indoor grow equipment was not of the best quality, and therefore had weaknesses. Jayson and I re-engineered existing equipment to [become more] durable and higher grade..at a more affordable cost. We wanted to help improve indoor cultivation and knew we could do things better.
The idea truly derived from our passion for the plant and this industry.
EM: What are the core values of your company?
BT: The core values that you hold for yourself, are what shape the company’s that we own. For me, core values that I never steer away from are ethics and integrity, social responsibility, collaboration, diversity and inclusion.
EM: What is a day like in your position?
BT: A day in my position is insane to say the least. As a woman [and a] business owner, I wear many hats. [I’m] a mother, wife, business colleague, and employer. It can be challenging at times to navigate two children under 5, multiple businesses, on top of this very volatile and ever-changing cannabis market. No day is the same as I may be juggling back-to-back zoom meetings [or] potty training, all while managing day-to-day business operations.
EM: What does the term social equity mean to you?
BT: Social equity to me is full inclusion and fairness for all people. It must factor in the inequalities that exist in society and work to ensure that everyone has equal access to the same opportunities and outcomes.
As a woman minority business owner in cannabis, I fall into this category of social equity, and count on this ideology in order to be able to have a true and honest fair shot at opportunities that are made available to others.
EM: What does restorative justice look like?
BT: In terms of cannabis, restorative justice is righting our wrongs through the same system that did the harm. I am very proud to be a part of a state that has constructed legislation to help right its wrongs through the CAURD program, and in many other facets. Allowing those with cannabis convictions the first right to the market speak volumes. This thought process has also led to various organizations being formed to assist in this movement. Some of these organizations aid in the expungements of those with cannabis convictions or currently work with those still incarcerated [which] hope to free them. Although we are not fully there yet, I do believe we are headed in the right direction.
EM: What stigmas or pushback are you up against?
BT: The biggest stigmas I face being in cannabis comes from being a woman, and being a mother. Whether we want to believe it or not, there are so many people that do not support cannabis use. Being a business owner in cannabis, there is judgment from certain community members. Certain parents may choose to not have an association with our family due to our professional career in cannabis.
For me, I look at this as an opportunity through my businesses and community work to show that cannabis can be safe, [that] cannabis is professional, [and that] cannabis is economic development for our communities, and so much more.
Through education and setting the right example, we then break the stigmas down and normalize the plant.
EM: Do you have a mentor? Do you mentor others?
BT: I do take great pride in mentoring those seeking to enter or expand in the cannabis space. I offer my time, business platforms, and industry knowledge/expertise, at no charge, to facilitate or participate in various events. These events are geared towards workforce development, and educational pathways within cannabis, as well as minority women in cannabis throughout New York State. I want people to see me as a resource as so many people have helped me along the way, so it’s nice to give that back to others.
EM: What are your thoughts on women having a predominant role in the cannabis industry?
BT: I believe that women are definitely in the cannabis industry, and are growing in numbers every day, but we are far from predominant in this space. More women need to take advantage of the opportunities that are within this infant marketplace to help ensure that we have a seat at the table.
As women become less defined by the “stay-at-home mother” role, and are accepted as the educated, business-oriented, entrepreneurs that we are, only then can we be seen as equal.
Yes, we are mothers and wives, but we are resilient and can do it all!
EM: Any closing thoughts on the future of NYS cannabis?
BT: More than my thoughts, it’s my hopes for the future of cannabis that I find myself working towards.
I hope to see an industry full of color and culture. I hope to see full inclusion with women and women minorities having equal opportunities and outcomes.
I hope to see an industry that collaborates over just competing. I hope that more access is made to resources for those that it is intended to help. I hope communities are able to rebuild, and families are able to create stability through reinvestment.
As a state, we have the ability now to create the norm of cannabis together– and we should not squander it.
*Q&A has been edited for brevity
As Britni waits for a decision from the Office of Cannabis Management on the approval of her retail license application, we wish her, and all the applicants tremendous luck and success in growing the future of the cannabis industry! To learn more about Britini Tantalo, or Flower City Dispensary, follow them here.
The article is part of an ongoing series to highlight New York State’s Social Equity CAURD applicants. Check back weekly for new candidates. If you are a CAURD applicant, and would like to share your story, e-mail Info@TheEmeraldMagazine.com.