Cannabis has an Inclusivity Problem

Black couple smoking cannabis

Cannabis has an Inclusivity Problem: CannaClusive wants to solve it

Approximately 4 percent of businesses in the cannabis industry in the U.S. are owned or founded by black Americans, according to a survey conducted in 2017 by Marijuana Business Daily. Yet, 80 percent of people in federal prisons, and 60 percent in state prisons, who are serving time for drug offenses are black or Latino, reports the Drug Policy Alliance.

The War on Drugs disproportionately affects minority communities. Legalization has not decreased that disparity. Cannaclusive is committed to ensuring that people of color are not shut out of the economic opportunities created in the new and rapidly forming legal landscape.

Mary Pryor, Charlese Antoinette and Tonya Rapley founded Cannaclusive with a mission of solving the industry’s inclusivity problem. The group does this by creating visuals and organizing workshops and networking events in areas from Los Angeles to New York City.

Photo by Rei Lorin

The women bring their expertise in their respective fields—which range from digital marketing to costume design—to help meet the needs of the cannabis industry. During the process of transitioning their careers into this space, they were met with sexism and racism at every level, according to Pryor, who said she’s been mistaken for a janitor, a secretary and a maid—all at events or meetings she was hosting. “We weren’t taken seriously,” she explained. Other members of the group have described experiencing other forms of microaggression and constant online harassment.

The women were tired of being the only people of color in the room. So, “We decided to do it ourselves,” Pryor added, “enter ourselves into the space …” Their first project: a photo shoot to create stock images “reflective of actual consumers in the space,” Pryor said.

Cannaclusive wants to change the commercial face of the average cannabis consumer. The collective—which comprises six black women from throughout the nation—has teamed up with professional photographers to create Cannaclusive’s Stock Photo series on Flickr. Images are available for anyone to use, provided Cannaclusive is credited.

There are hundreds of photos in the series so far. Images showcase real people: people of all sizes, genders, sexualities and colors, explained Antoinette, a stylist, designer, and creative director whose credits include collaborations with Netflix, Hulu, Nike, Converse and more. “It’s very diverse and inclusive [and represents] all types of cannabis consumers,” she said.

The face and representation of cannabis consumers in media today is outdated and stereotypical, Antoinette said. “I didn’t see young professionals [in stock photo shoots]; I didn’t see black or Latino people,” she added. She saw no one who looked like her.

“Our community is missing out,” Antoinette said. “The photographers we use are usually people of color. We try to highlight as many [black and Latino people] in our shoots, and behind the scenes, as possible.”

Photo by Rei Lorin

At events and in mass media, “We are not seeing people who look like us being represented at all,” said Kassia Graham, Cannaclusive’s National Project Leader. “THC and CBD products … they’ve all got a whitewashed image.”

Cannabis users are often marketed as soccer moms, or people doing yoga, Graham added. “It’s the exact opposite of the people who’ve been affected by the War on Drugs.”

“It’s always the same,” Graham explained, “[you see] white women; no trans folks, no nonbinary people. It’s disconcerting. As cannabis is becoming mainstream, [many are] acting as if black and Latino people were never there.”

Cannaclusive provides a pathway for brands to be more inclusive. Dynamic visuals help other brands communicate to diverse audiences and ensure that minority communities are part of the conversation and not an afterthought.

Cannaclusive offers a suite of services that range from creative design to business strategy, policy development, education and career training.

Group members host workshops and networking events in cities along both the East and West Coast. Events are geared toward plant education and teaching others about the benefits of the plant from both the business and medical side. 

The events are opening the door to the industry for black and Latino communities, explained Kendra Norwood, Cannaclusive’s West Coast project leader. “[It’s] important to include folks so they understand what’s happening, that things are changing fast, and how to be a part of that change.”

One of the group’s biggest challenges is in letting others know they can work in the industry with cannabis convictions on their record.

This year, the collective co-produced a cannabis career fair in New York City. Cannaclusive is also helping to support Black Tech Week, a week-long conference celebrating innovators of color in Miami, Florida, on February 9, 2019. Upcoming workshops include “Herbalism 101” and “Where to Start in Cannabis PR.”

Cannabis is imbedded in hip hop and urban culture, and in black and Latino communities. “Now that’s being washed away,” said Pryor. What is left are stigma and fear.

Despite the profit now being made from cannabis legally, there are still many people of color in prison for selling or possessing cannabis. “So many mothers and fathers,” Graham added. “There’s a lack of generational wealth because of [that].” 

“Now that it’s legal, where are our communities going to get the money to invest?” Graham asked. “It’s a slap in the face; we literally can’t afford to buy our way in because of that.”

The collective has been able to connect people to generational wealth in a more direct way, Pryor said, “whether it’s through helping them understand the industry and where to insert themselves, obtaining a license, figuring out their land…” 

In the future, the collective will design more events geared toward understanding equity and how to build it.

Members of Cannaclusive know that it’s not enough for Black and Latino people to be represented in mass media, to see themselves as consumers—they need to see themselves as business owners, as cultivators, as industry leaders.

Black communities won’t be erased from the narrative, Cannaclusive members explain. “We have to show up. We have to be vocal,” Graham said.

Pryor ended with a note about her experience as a successful Black women in the corporate world; “I’ve always been someone who has to do my job and know there’s not enough of me to make a difference.”

The key is to keep one foot in business and the other in advocacy, said Pryor, “The only way to win is to find a way to care about doing a little of both.”


For consultation opportunities or to learn ways to help people of color get their foot in industry’s door, contact the team at

Emerald contributor since February 2016


Your email address will not be published.