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Cultivating Conscious Consumption | Cannabis Business Executive – Cannabis and Marijuana industry news

Righting the wrongs of the war on drugs forms a key plank in the platform to legalize cannabis. Through social equity provisions and other efforts, nearly every legal program aims to create opportunities for minority business owners and entrepreneurs. Yet supporters nationwide are starting to question if the industry is delivering on its promises. A…
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Righting the wrongs of the war on drugs forms a key plank in the platform to legalize cannabis. Through social equity provisions and other efforts, nearly every legal program aims to create opportunities for minority business owners and entrepreneurs. Yet supporters nationwide are starting to question if the industry is delivering on its promises. A recent conversation with a cannabis veteran illustrates the perspective of some minority business owners and entrepreneurs. The discussion also addresses how consumers can make an impact by mindfully participating in the legal market. 

A recent call with Chris Ball, the founder and CEO of premium cultivator Ball Family Farms and an outspoken voice on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in cannabis, touched on these topics. In an industry beset with concerns about “corporate cannabis” buying its way into the space, Ball joined the industry the old-fashioned way: he began in the illicit market. While wrapping up a short pro football career in Canada in the early 2000s, he was introduced to the arbitrage opportunity that plagues the legal market. A teammate broke down how product purchased legally in Canada could command lucrative prices in the States, and, after what he described as a no-brainer decision in a recent profile, Ball was in business.

Years later, after operating at a high level in the illicit market and surviving a legal case that carried a punitive mandatory prison sentence, Ball saw an offramp from the legacy market into the regulated market via the Social Equity Program in Los Angeles. In time, Ball went from 14 plants in a 5,000 square foot “grow” to incorporating Ball Family Farms in 2018 and launching its first commercial strain, Daniel LaRusso, an Indica-dominant hybrid. The business has benefited from Ball’s background, arguably more so than any other factor. He attributes his success to “personal experience”, something “not everyone has shared.” Asked about social equity efforts, Ball questioned the perspective that “everyone can take part” in the industry because “that’s not happening.” He questions, in part, how much education and access to resources the industry is providing would-be cannabis entrepreneurs among minorities and those hit worst under cannabis prohibition.

The education component – how to set up a business and navigate Byzantine cannabis regulations – “is still broken” in Ball’s eyes. Evidence exists to support that perspective, such as reporting by the Los Angeles Times and a damning report from the California Cannabis Industry Association. Set against the backdrop of a recently released macroanalysis on the challenging state of diversity, equity, and inclusion from the Minority Cannabis Business Association, critiques from operators like Ball Family Farms carry significant weight.

If social equity programs are not working as intended, what can be done to change the status quo?

Chris Ball has one suggestion: as consumers, “we have to start paying more attention” to the provenance of cannabis. Many consumers revel in learning about cultivars, terpenes, cannabinoids, formulations, and many other subtleties of cannabis. But the source of the product – how it came to market and from whom – doesn’t command as much attention. That has to change, Ball believes.

The findings of a Weedmaps study published in November 2021 illustrate where issues like social equity rank in the mind of the consumer. The data in ‘Cannabis In America‘ quantify interest in fairness and equal opportunity, but the results make that interest look fairly tepid. Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents indicated belief in the value and merits of an open and inclusive industry – even if they don’t act on those beliefs when patronizing dispensaries. Of those surveyed, less than half indicated any particular interest in patronizing dispensaries operated by women (46%), veteran or minority-owned (44% for both), disabled-owned (40%), or LGBTQ+ owned businesses. The report found a yawning disconnect on social equity: 44% see an opportunity for “a more fair and equitable” industry but only 27% indicated any support for social equity programs.

(The report doesn’t show any data on the issue, but it’s possible some respondents don’t understand the term well enough to answer the question. Asking about support for specific policies – automatic expungement of cannabis-related convictions, for example – might yield different answers.)

To Ball’s point, only a small portion (13%) of cannabis consumers “say they actually know if their cannabis retailer reflects a specific ownership type” per the report. Thus not only must cannabis businesses do more to help people understand the nature of social equity and cultivate a passion for values like those of Ball Family Farms, but owners also have to play an active role in the story. The Black Box Project launched in February in Los Angeles acts as an instructive example. Products from Ball Family, together with Black-owned brands Viola, House of Tyne, Justice Tree, Biko Flower, and Wyllow, came together in a limited run of boxes sold exclusively through a group of retailers all with the shared aim of highlighting the importance of equity and inclusion.

Consumers can support businesses like Ball Family Farms by asking more questions and demanding transparency in the supply chain – including information on social equity participation. The information isn’t easily available or verifiable in every case. There’s a need for more accessible resources – something consumers should push for as well – and that suggests a potential area of collaboration between the industry and consumers. Cannabis businesses should expect and, one should hope, welcome and foster the same level (if not greater) of scrutiny consumers apply to other products, such as sustainability claims made by food brands. As people increasingly, as Chris Ball puts it, “dissect” cannabis brands, the industry will start to see consumers increasingly look to learn about, shop for, and patronize businesses supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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