The cannabis industry isn’t a level playing field. It’s disheartening to say. But as someone who has been building a soon-to-open dispensary for the last three years, I’ve experienced this lack of equity firsthand.
It starts with the industry’s foundation. We’re in an era where anyone can start a business. Create a logo, launch a website and upload promotional content on social media. A few clicks and…boom, you’re a business owner. Lovely, but absolutely not the case for the cannabis industry.
Getting started is no easy feat.
Budding cannabis entrepreneurs (pun very much intended) need a ton of capital in order to get started. And as cannabis isn’t federally legalized, entrepreneurs don’t have access to traditional banking loans. They either need to fund their cannabis venture with their life savings or turn to family, friends and their community to fundraise. Unfortunately, not everyone has such privilege or access. This reality contributes to the industry’s unequal playing field – and due to a lack of legalization, shows no signs of letting up.
Jessica Gonzalez, a Jersey City-based attorney and cannabis advocate, spoke to this challenge in a recent NJBiz interview. “It’s extremely expensive to enter and survive in this industry, and given the limited capital options, you are forced to seek private investors – which opens a whole can of racial and gender bias. The need to stay capitalized, coupled with constantly changing regulatory environments, expensive service professionals, lack of real estate, a social stigma and IRS tax code 280E, creates high barriers to entry and high survival barriers.”
As Gonzales notes, funding is just one piece of the puzzle. Once you’ve secured said funding and have decided to start a cannabis venture, you’re navigating a minefield of ever-changing regulations. This demands the help of pricey service professionals–attorneys, operators, marketers and more–who remain abreast of current laws and have the subject matter expertise to properly guide you.
The issues with the cannabis industry are clear – funding is difficult to secure, marketing is nearly impossible and pricey consultants are table stakes. On the bright side, operating in cannabis isn’t all doom and gloom. Solutions are ahead–and they’ve been baked into the operating strategy of many fantastic, social-equity led dispensaries, includingSocíale, the soon-to-open Park Ridge, IL dispensary. While getting started is no easy feat, as leaders, we should each take it upon ourselves to empower those wanting to work with this life-changing plant by developing an industry that’s ripe with endless opportunities.
Economically empowering employees should remain top-of-mind.
The lack of equitable wealth creation in the cannabis industry bolsters its inaccessibility. It’s unfair that if a dispensary or cannabis business succeeds, only the entrepreneur wins financially. Yes, employees may get a small discretionary bonus at the end of the year – but they’re not woven into the fabric of the business’s profitability. Employees – and those earlier in the value chain, like growers – are left out in the cold, while dispensary owners seek to profit immensely.
Personally, when I started in the cannabis industry, I thought this dichotomy was blatantly unfair – and vowed to be a powerful force in changing that. At Socíale, profit sharing is a part of our DNA. Employees will take part in dispensary profits from the day they start. This way, everyone wins–and if employees decide to start a cannabis venture of their own, that ambition is more in reach. This is a massive piece of what the cannabis industry preaches when it has conversations surrounding social equity. It’s time the industry and its leaders back up this ideology with a plan of action. Embracing the concept of ownership not only among founders and senior leaders, but among employees at all levels, can provide a valuable taste of entrepreneurship. Situations like these often empower employees economically to create lasting changes for not just the company they’re working for, but for themselves and their families at home.
Social equity license holders should pay it forward.
Social equity dispensaries should embrace the pay-it-forward mentality among the communities of which they serve, especially those disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. It’s unfortunate to see dispensaries falsely advertise with a “social equity” label, merely for the vanity of it all.
Socíale is beholden to certain promises we made to the state of Illinois, who granted us our social equity license. This includes employing people from under-represented communities and advocating for cannabis social justice – two causes that we’re deeply committed to. As we look to shape the future, let’s remain hopeful about what it holds. Collaboration over competition needs to be the motto. If we all partner together to think beyond profits and aim to better the greater cannabis community, we’ll all be better off.