There are many assumptions about the cannabis industry, ranging from the spot-on to the completely-out-of-proportion. Based on the liberal nature of legal cannabis, many assume that the industry is a safe haven for women, people of color, LTBGQ individuals, and anyone who has been generally marginalized by the straight world.
However, the world of weed has gotten its fair share of criticism as well. Anyone with a felony is excluded from working with cannabis in Colorado, which means anyone who may have turned to crime due to class struggle, or worked with the plant when it was still resigned to the black market, doesn’t have a chance. Furthermore, the industry has been criticized for being white washed, since mostly caucasian, upper-class individuals have the means to launch start-ups in an uncertain new industry.
Based on my personal experience in the industry, as well as testimony from others, it appears that there are many things that are done well when it comes to inclusion, but there are a few areas that get overlooked.
For example, it is mostly assumed that the entire industry is so liberal that no one is excluded, which creates a culture in which people aren’t checking that inclusion always happens. Even though there are a lot of women in the industry, sexism still occurs, and people often fail to account for LGBTQ individuals, or the fact that most people in the industry are white and upper-class.
“Day to day, I think that the cannabis industry is more open-minded about LGBTQ lives than some other industries,” explained Matt Bell, founder of Nerve Consulting, a cannabis marketing company based out of Denver. “I’ve never had a specific problem with anyone on the account that I am a gay man. That said, I feel that the LGBTQ members of this industry feel invisible. We have no organization or social events with consumption. I have also noticed that the industry becomes much more of an old-school men’s game at the bigger conferences, where I’ve seen female executives cat-called and groped.”
Similarly, as a queer/bisexual woman, I have noticed plenty of inclusion of women in the industry but an overall hetero vibe when it comes to cannabis spaces. Many of the women I encounter while working, although they have been wonderful influences and hard workers, have been white, straight women from affluent backgrounds who lead fairly traditional lives outside of what many would perceive as a non-traditional job. This is not surprising, as many of the women who find themselves involved in the industry do so because they have encountered the healing powers that cannabis has for their children or someone in their family. Still, this creates a culture in which many of the people working with cannabis are mothers or young professionals, and there are not a lot of people with more colorful, interesting, and diverse backgrounds.
However, the industry has definitely made it a point to support LGBTQ issues. Good Chemistry, a local dispensary in Denver, goes out of their way every year to sponsor the AIDS Walk and give back to the LGBTQ community.
Cannabrand, a cannabis marketing company from Denver, headed up an “LGBTHC” ad campaign for Botanico. According to their founder, Olivia Mannix, Cannabrand is “totally friendly, as everyone should be” when it comes to supporting LGBTQ rights within the industry.
According to Bell, however, part of the reason there is a lack of LGBTQ visibility in the industry is because of the advocacy and acceptance people already support, even if they are hetero themselves.
“I feel that the lack of organization is partially because LGBTQ people feel accepted by the cannabis industry as a whole so there’s no need to organize,” he explained.
Whatever the cause, it is clear that the cannabis industry has its heart in the right place when it comes to acceptance and inclusion but sometimes may overlook diversity due to privilege within.
As the world of cannabis changes and molds based on loosening laws and increased participation, this will hopefully change for the better.