The legal cannabis industry isn’t merely budding. It’s. Blowing. Up. By some estimates, it’ll be worth $50 billion by 2026. But as big as its potential is, it’s got an even bigger problem: It’s mostly white men that the industry is making very, very wealthy.
All the while there are still an estimated 40,000 people locked up for marijuana offenses, a disproportionate number of whom are Black and Latino. And the harm doesn’t stop there. While sales of the plant are raking in a lot of green, the resource-heavy process of cultivating it, packaging it and selling it is not. Thankfully, there are more and more companies popping up that are rooted in ethical and equitable practices of cultivation and distribution — and making sure the communities most harmed by the war on drugs will have an opportunity to benefit from legalization. And consumers can help propel the industry in the right direction by supporting the companies doing it right.
KindColorado started in 2015 as a consulting agency for the cannabis sector, but founders Kelly Perez and Courtney Mathis didn’t want to just encourage cannabis companies to adopt ethical practices. They also wanted to set a standard for social responsibility that could be recognized by consumers who care. This idea turned into Cannabis Doing Good, an organization they co-founded three years ago. Cannabis Doing Good aims to organize the industry around equitable, sustainable and community-centric best business practices while providing pathways for consumers to support companies that use them.
To that end, they are launching the Cannabis Doing Good standard — a certification and labeling system that they say will make it easy to identify purpose-driven cannabis brands.
“There’s a deep, deep desire for a purpose-driven community to exist and for them to be given a platform to interact with and support one another,” says Mathis. “And that’s really what we hope Cannabis Doing Good will achieve.”
The Cannabis Doing Good standard, which they plan to officially launch in May, recognizes companies making an impact in three areas: community engagement, sustainability and equity.
With over 15 years of experience in nonprofit consulting, Mathis is clear on the issues that the growth of the cannabis industry presents and on the solutions.
“This industry is built on the backs of Black and brown people. We understand that whole communities should benefit from this cultural sea change, but that it isn’t going to equitably benefit folks unless we set it up that way. Consumers and patients have a lot of power in their dollar. Supporting brands that align with their values is how they’ll influence the market and create an industry that’s founded on values, people and planet.”
Here are six cannabis brands that Perez and Mathis recommend for their exceptional practices around equity, community and sustainability.
Fewer than 5% of cannabis companies in the U.S. are Black owned. To lower barriers for licensing for those hit hardest by the war on drugs, the city of San Francisco developed a Cannabis Equity Program. Among the first few companies to come from the program is SF Roots.
“One issue for me was my criminal record,” says founder and CEO Morris Kelly. “I was fighting a trafficking case. One of the hardest things for me was having to put my trust in a system that has never really been for me before. And now we’re heavily involved in the community, mentoring, advising and supporting other equity applicants that are trying to come in alongside us.”
Kelly has built a popular line of flower, pre-rolls, tinctures and apparel, available at over 28 retailers throughout the state. He encourages cannabis consumers to be conscious of which brands they buy.
“Your purchasing dollar goes a long way. When you support a company like SF Roots or another social equity company, you’re supporting the community instead of a corporation with an endless burn rate (burning quickly through investment money). I think that’s important to point out. A lot of companies love to wave a big fancy banner, but they’re more focused on extracting capital, as opposed to creating generational wealth and communities.’’
Shop SF Roots: sfroots.com
Osanyin founders Esailama Artry-Diouf and Shiree Dyson believe in collective healing and empowerment through cannabis and the arts. Osanyin offers an extensive variety of brands as well as a line of cannabis flowers and pre-rolls they cultivate on-site in Oakland. As an African Diasporic, artist- and women-owned company, Osanyin has become a lifestyle brand that is as conscious as it is cool.
“Black people have operated in this industry globally for a long time and have been judged, oppressed and marginalized within the industry,” says Artry-Diouf. “Some of our employees have been incarcerated because they’ve participated within this industry. So part of our movement has been how can we shift the narrative about what we call the legacy market, a.k.a. illegal, offer mentorship and commit to a regulated market?”
One answer they came up with was stocking only other equity brands. “We only do business with people who are like-minded in this movement,” says Dyson. Osanyin also develops and implements its own seeds and strains.
“We put our money where our mouth is in terms of not only building a business that is for and by us, but we reinvest within the communities in which we come from and that we represent.” says Dyson.
Shop Osanyin: osanyinllc.com
The People’s Dispensary
After being sick for three years, seeing 22 doctors in two states and having no real diagnosis, Christine De La Rosa survived a life-threatening pulmonary embolism back in 2010, and was finally diagnosed with lupus. For years, she was prescribed more than 10 pills a day, including opioids. Then one day a friend, chef Charleen Caabay, gave her homemade edibles to try.
“I took it that night, and I had the best sleep I’d had probably in the last two or three years because my pain was just so intense. When I woke up, I had actually had restful sleep. So that was my first foray into using cannabis as medicine. And I started to really be thoughtful about it,” says De La Rosa. But when De La Rosa and Caabay looked at the cannabis industry, they didn’t see anyone who looked like themselves: people of color, women, queer, disabled, veterans, formerly incarcerated, and living with chronic illness.
Together, along with a collective of community co-founders and supporters, they started the People’s Dispensary, a cannabis delivery service in Oakland, and plan to add their own line of products over the next few months.
“The cannabis industry is one of the only industries I can think of in the 20th century that was actually built by Black and brown people — as owners and operators, not only as laborers — in the informal market, and has been stolen in the formal market by white corporations,” says De La Rosa. “If you’re someone who supports BIPOC, women, LGBTQ+ people, and you support cannabis, then you should demand that there’ll be equal representation in the industry.”
Shop the People’s Dispensary: thepeoplesdispensary.com
Dogwood Botanicals is a woman-owned business in the Bay Area by way of east Tennessee. Its founders, Katie Pilgrim and Jamie Boling, have a combined 20 years of experience in the cannabis industry, but teamed up to bring hemp products to people across the country. Their offerings include a Calendula Rose CBD cream and flavorless CBD drops. The two friends-turned-business partners are working to demystify CBD and promote its wellness benefits.
“I think that CBD has been a really great entry point for so many folks who maybe never had access to cannabis, never even tried it and were afraid to, and now are able to try a couple drops of something like our flavorless CBD drops and find that they’re taking care of their system in a way that they hadn’t before,” says Boling.
With a heavy focus on ethical practices, the Dogwood Botanicals product line uses hemp that is grown and manufactured on an organic family farm in Colorado. All shipping materials and paper products used are biodegradable and sourced from 100% recycled materials. They also donate 1%+ of all sales to grassroots organizations working toward cannabis equity, like the Cannabis Impact Fund.
Shop Dogwood Botanicals: dogwoodbotanicals.com
Terrapin Care Station
Terrapin Care Station is proof that big doesn’t have to mean bad. The sizable corporation cultivates and provides both medical and retail cannabis products and boasts competitive prices and high quality. They offer an extensive variety, including flower, vape, topicals, tinctures, edibles and more. What really sets them apart, though, is not what they sell or do, but how. Based in Boulder, Colo., the company has always placed a strong emphasis on corporate social responsibility, and is hailed as a leader in doing so.
“It’s very important to us to be actively engaged in our communities and be responsible community members making a positive impact,” says communications director Peter Marcus. “Our corporate social responsibility program is called Terrapin for the People, where we focus on five pillars that have direct or incidental connections to cannabis: arts and culture, veterans issues, political advocacy, justice initiatives and human needs.”
Terrapin is also focused on keeping their operations as eco-friendly as possible. While they are growing, they are still independently owned by founder Chris Woods, who prioritizes sustainability.
Shop Terrapin Care Station: terrapincarestation.com
Founded by David Bronner, grandson of the iconic Dr. Bronner, whose organic All-One soap you may be familiar with, Brother David’s is leading the way for a more sustainable and equitable future for cannabis. It’s the first in the industry to donate 100% of profits to charity. It’s also the first to receive Sun & Earth certification, which means that the cannabis is grown under the sun, in the soil and chemical-free, by fairly paid farmers.
“We’re focused on giving away all of our profits. But it’s specific to the cannabis industry. All the profits support small-scale family farms, cannabis farms, that are farming regeneratively and organically. But then as the income streams grow, we’ll tackle larger issues around criminal justice and drug policy reform.”
The Bronners have already donated over $60 million to activist causes, including over $5 million to fight prohibition of cannabis on the state and federal level. Their line of goods can be purchased in 1/8-ounce jars, 1 gram jars and pre-rolled joints.
Shop Brother David’s: brotherdavids.com
This story was produced in partnership with Represent Collaborative (Rep Co), a San Francisco media initiative focused on racial and social justice. Rep Co works collaboratively with subjects to produce stories about Black and brown communities. Learn more at www.representcollaborative.com.