Advice for cannabis executives who want to address social justice

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Image depicting social equity

The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)’s new report about the responsible regulation of cannabis shines a light on why companies should address broader issues such as social justice and sustainability.

The IDPC document lists 20 principles, mostly directed at policymakers intending to legalize cannabis in one form or another.

But the report by the London-based group – a global network of non-government organizations promoting drug policy reform – also dishes up  important advice for cannabis businesses when it comes to social justice.

In an interview with Marijuana Business Daily, IDPC Research and Advocacy Officer Adrià Cots Fernández said the report “offers a blueprint for cannabis businesses that want take social justice seriously.”

“From racial justice to climate change, legal cannabis markets have an important role to play in ensuring that our societies are just, inclusive and sustainable,” Cots added.

Asked to identify three key takeaways from the report for cannabis executives, Cots selected the following and provided justifications for each:

Support affirmative action for communities affected by the war on drugs

“For decades, the people and communities who were involved in the cannabis markets, from farmers to users, suffered the violence and stigma of criminalization, especially on the basis of race, gender identity and sexual orientation.

cannabis social equity, Advice for cannabis executives who want to address social justice
Adrià Cots Fernández

“When legal markets are created, social justice demands that the affected communities have priority in participating in and benefiting from the legal economy.

“However, this has been rarely the case so far: Black, Indigenous and other people of color control a very small share of the U.S. cannabis markets, while traditional growers in countries like Colombia or Jamaica are practically excluded from international trade.

“Cannabis businesses must support, individually and through business associations, strong affirmative-action measures that provide affected communities with preferential access to producing and selling licenses, as well as technical and financial support.”

Protect and empower women within the cannabis industry

“For decades, the role of women in cannabis markets has been rendered invisible and socially stigmatized.

“This still holds true today, as abuse and discrimination against women cultivators is reported in both the legal and illegal markets and women occupy a small share of the positions of power in cannabis companies.

“To address this, cannabis businesses need to adopt internal policies that proactively identify, report and remedy any cases of exploitation and harassment against women.

“They should also ensure that women can operate in a level playing field, adopting business practices that respond to the needs of women and facilitating equal access to senior management roles and board positions.”

Use certifications to promote fairness and sustainability across the supply chain

“From fair labor practices to environmental sustainability, a key way in which businesses can advance social justice throughout the global supply chain is to create and adopt schemes that certify products on the basis of stakeholder engagement.

“Certification schemes, such as appellations of origin or eco-labeling, can also maximize the value of cannabis products by leveraging the conditions of production for socially minded users.

“However, traditional third-party certifications can be expensive and impracticable for small and medium producers, while many existing fair-trade schemes are reluctant to get involved with the cannabis industry.

“This means that cannabis businesses have the opportunity to adopt and promote peer-led schemes that certify products on the basis of fairness and sustainability, following models such as Participatory Guarantee Systems, which are flexible, community-oriented and have a local focus.”

The full International Drug Policy Consortium is available here.

Alfredo Pascual can be reached at