Cannabis has always been a hot commodity, whether under or above ground. Despite its sustained status as a federally illegal Schedule I narcotic, the industry is booming. But, the plant has a sordid past. As more states legalize, it’s important not to forget the hurdles crossed to get here. Social receipt of cannabis has a long history of marginalizing Black and Brown communities. Consequently, we cannot celebrate the plant’s triumphs today without acknowledging its roots and the tenacious need for equity in the industry. Original Equity Group is one company that has made equity in cannabis their mission.
Equity in Cannabis
Equity in cannabis means giving opportunities to those who the plant’s prohibition has historically disadvantaged.
Today, one-in-five inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent drug charges, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. In comparison, 40% of American inmates are Black, although Black Americans only represent 13% of the U.S. population. As cannabis goes legal in the 21st century, there is a duty to give opportunities to people systematically disadvantaged by the drug war.
Social Equity Programs (SEP) are designed to offer pathways into the legal industry for such communities. Resources, information and funding are all elements SEPs aim to provide.
Original Equity Group (OEG), a company out of San Francisco, is an SEP that advocates for and educates Black and Brown communities in the legal cannabis industry. They started in 2017 with a mission to support minority communities with access to information and resources. They host workshops, raise funds and share their knowledge about equal opportunity and the legal cannabis industry.
The Original Equity Group
OEG was created organically in response to the need for equity in San Francisco.
“It started with [the founders] and a sheet of paper in a classroom asking ‘how can we help equity?’” says Edward Brown, co-founder of OEG.
With that, Brown, along with Nina Parks and Ramon Garcia started their fight to forge legitimate opportunities in the legal cannabis industry for those most impacted by the War on Drugs.
“We started beating up City Hall to make sure equity was included in anything they were doing with cannabis legislation,” says Brown. “It’s on us to do this. We looked around and there was nobody else that cared.”
Before OEG, Brown was a clerk at a cannabis law firm. When he heard about equity programs and the disparities that people of color face when trying to enter the cannabis space, he dedicated his craft to the cause.
“I realized that I needed to bring this information to the people… they need knowledge and it’s very expensive to pay for,” he explains.
Brown, Parks and Garcia wanted to help fill the gap. Through their combined experience and knowledge, they provide business training, jobs, reliable funding and strategic partnerships that help communities of color navigate the growing industry.
What They Do
OEG hosts workshops, panels and events to inform equity applicants, business partners and future incubators on all things legal cannabis. They also provide application assistance to guide applicants through the tedious process of obtaining a license. Through their knowledge and connections in the cannabis industry, they are also able to assist with job training and placement. Additionally, the group also connects equity applicants with business partners and helps build relationships with community-based organizations.
Additionally, they fundraise to support Black and Brown businesses. This past summer, they raised $35,000 in relief for businesses who suffered losses during the Black Lives Matter protests.
The Equity Trade Certification
On March 31st, OEG announced the official registration of the Equity Trade Certification (ETC) mark. It is the first federally recognized social equity certification. The emblem verifies that products or services have been provided by a business that meets social equity standards.
This allows consumers to identify businesses that are committed to equity and social justice. As they say: we vote with our dollars. The ETC makes it much easier for consumers to make educated and intentional purchasing decisions that will actively further the cause of social justice.
Already, OEG has been able to use the ETC to successfully back 10 cannabis equity businesses to secure shelf space at dispensaries across California.
This is a monumental moment for the cannabis industry because it confirms the importance of equity in the industry. It also opens a whole new avenue for consumer activism as well as uplifts equity certified businesses by giving them more visibility and support.
This news comes at a time of intense social friction in the United States. As a result of the COVID pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change and everything else that has been brought into focus in the past year, more Americans are calling for important changes. Though, actions speak louder than words, and the ETC allows people to take action in their daily life.
The ETC is just one component of a larger cause to implement sustainable equity practices in the cannabis industry. Going forward, OEG hopes to create a non-profit in support of the ETC and its mission.
“The World is Waking Up”
Following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the members of OEG knew they were on the right path.
The movement ignited a conversation on systemic racism in the country, and “validated the work we were doing and what we were fighting for,” says Brown.
But still, equity in cannabis did not seem to become a priority, he explains.
“Everybody is ignoring equity,” says Brown. “It emboldened us to go harder, and that we’re going in the right direction now that the world is waking up.”
The bulk of OEG’s work thus far is in San Francisco. But the group plans to expand its reach across the country.
OEG a champion in the fight for equity in cannabis. This industry was born out of the suffering of marginalized communities. there is no excuse for an absence of equity. This fight is the only way to ensure the cannabis industry continues to represent the core values of cannabis culture. With nearly 40 states that have legalized cannabis as of April 2021 —and more in the works— OEG is making sure Black and Brown communities not only have one seat at the table, but several.