Q&A: The Accountability List – A Call For Overall Inclusion, Equity and Social Change

As many continue to march and protest in the name of equality and racial justice across the globe, there’s a lens on the cannabis industry here in America, the impact of The Drug War and the continued unjust representation and equity share for people of color who have been and largely remain to be impacted by laws that were created decades ago.

The team behind Cannaclusive, Shop Shaw, Raven Grass, Cannabis Workers Coalition and PussyWeed organized one of the most interesting list recently addressing cannabis brands and their diversity presentation in senior management and how they are being held accountable for their actions in order to make a change for the better – The Accountability List.

We spoke with Kassia Graham (Cannaclusive), Maya Shaw (Shop Shaw), Nichole Graf (RavenGrass), Savina Monet (Cannabis Workers Coalition), Amarie Baker, Natasha Przedborski (PussyWeed) and Mary Pryor (Cannaclusive & TONIC/Tricolla Farms) about creating this list, the companies they featured and what changes they expect to come.

What brought about the creation of the Accountability List?

KG: We were spurred to act on creating The Accountability List as we saw an onslaught of injustices taking place and the cannabis industry remaining silent. Inspiration also came from other industries who had similar lists. Since this is an industry that has been heavily influenced by Black and Latinx people we wanted to make sure that those profiting off their backs are accountable to the individuals and communities most heavily impacted by the war on drugs.

It is time for a reckoning. We know the window to create a truly equitable and inclusive industry is narrow. Therefore, we took things into our own hands due to being accustomed to larger systems failing Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other melanated communities.

MP: The need for this came with a call for accountability. Consumers need to know who is standing up for equity and Black lives during this time in our history and beyond.  I came up with the idea based on the success of two key database movements at the time which were led by Sherrel Dorsey of The PLUG and James Norman of the Black VC List. These efforts inspired me to launch this effort within our collective along with amazing volunteers who reached out to us because they knew that change was needed in every form possible given the goals of this list.

Is there a goal with this project?

KG: The goal of The Accountability List is multifold. We want accountability not only outside of the industry but inside too. We want individuals and organizations in the cannabis industry to take equity, diversity, and inclusion seriously. No more platitudes and meaningless posts or press releases. We want to see action. 

In our open letter to the industry—which was signed by more than 50 organizations—we outlined several priorities including: 

  • Inclusion support
    • A dedicated Corporate Social Responsibility role at organizations with more than 100 employees
    • Dedicated shelf space for goods produced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) businesses 
  • BIPOC leadership support
    • A change in employment practices that would see more BIPOC in executive roles, on boards, and being paid wages on par with their White counterparts
  • Helping to end the war on drugs and halting further harm

MP: 

Here are the main goals of this project 

  1. Holding the industry accountable 
  2. Calling in support for overall inclusion, equity, social change, and access to the plant as its natural purpose… medicine
  3. Giving power to consumers as a way for them to know who supports inclusion and equity whenever they need to make a decision on who to buy from given the need for cannabis and hemp to have mainstream appeal

MLS: Yes, by holding companies accountable we want to see a shift within the cannabis industry. As of now, companies have been able to hop into the industry with zero intentions to do something for the BIPOC folk that are heavily affected by the War on Drugs that is still alive today.  Beyond the War on Drugs, we see a lack of diversity in the boardrooms which does not represent the reality of the cannabis community. We hope that by creating this list companies will take action to diversify their teams, create equity programs, and fight to give back to the communities in need. 

What has been the response from companies mentioned and your audience?

KG: The response from organizations has been mixed but mostly positive. There are some organizations who have enthusiastically reached out to be added to the list. Then there are others who are not as happy to be on the list. 

Consumers and individual industry professionals have reached out too. They’ve made note of organizations that should be on the list whether in a positive light, or those in need of changes to the way they operate in the space.

MP: Its been interesting to see people react negatively when items are simply based on what is out there. However its been really disheartening to see so many complaints and items come in from people about being mistreated behind the scenes at so many brands. That was a hard reality we had to sit through and figure out.

AB: People are really excited to see this come to fruition. I think for years so many of us in this industry have been frustrated with the lack of accountability many companies have. Framing their own success while saying that they have no comment and feel no responsibility when asked about war on drugs that has devastated Black people. Their lack of empathy paired with the lack of action from governments to free incarcerated individuals in legalized states is shameful. 

NP: There has definitely been a duality in the responses received from brands. Some viewed this as an “attack” and that is just further proof that there is a need for transparency and accountability in this industry. Yet, most took it positively and expressed the need for this sort of initiative. 

Are you hopeful about change to come in wake of current protests for racial justice and equality?

SM: I do not think hope is the word that I would use. Hope sounds very optimistic, but in reality it is the closest thing to inaction as we can get. Instead, we need to demand that change happens even long after current protests phase out.

NP: Change in some ways has already happened. Awareness and bringing the problems to light is a big part of implementing change. Racial justice and equality was something many brands were ignoring since it was “inconvenient” or “not good for business” but now folks and especially consumers are watching. This adds a sense of urgency for accountability and internal changes. 

KG: I would not say that I lack hope. However, in the case of the industry I know it is going to be one hell of a challenge to keep organizations and consumers on this course. Sadly, many of us are easily swayed by the bare minimum but there is no longer space for that in the industry. 

Outside of the industry many BIPOC people are tired of the same old, same old. While some cities are taking down and storing monuments to racist antiquity, citizens are making bold moves by plunging effigies to slavers, rapists, and the like into rivers. More importantly, many are far more civic-minded than they have ever been. Personally, I’m seeing so many people I used to beg to get involved out protesting; reaching out to their legislators; donating; and taking action in other ways. I’m proud and want us to keep the momentum going.

What are changes and programs you want to see and how can they be truly effective?

NCG: Setting up a legislative task force on social equity to guide the formation of recreational cannabis industries state by state is a step that must be taken. These task forces would be a branch of the governing agency for cannabis within each state, and would help guide policy making, enforcement decisions, fund allocation, and structural implementation through a lens of equity. These task forces would be made up of BIPOC license holders within the cannabis community of that state, but also of activist voices from outside of the industry, as an assurance that the cannabis space be held accountable to outside standards of equity and radical change as well. 

KG: I would like the industry and legislators to dial it back a bit and go directly to the communities and individuals affected. They helped birth this industry. What do they need? How can we support these individuals and communities in a manner that is immediately and positively impactful? Often it seems as if those most harmed by the war on drugs are left out of the conversation when it comes to needs and wants being defined. What’s important is we remain consistent in any positive movement.

Will there be a further expansion of The Accountability List, i.e. will you add more companies?

KG: From the onset of the creation of the list we know Cannaclusive is in it for the long haul. The list will continue to grow; will be refined; and redesigned as relevant events take place inside and outside of the cannabis industry.

We will implement reporting so organizations are kept honest and consumers stay informed. Organizations on the list will be able to see how far they’ve come and what is left to be done. 

We’re in an age when many are committed to shopping their values.  We want to help consumers make more conscious decisions about where they spend their hard earned dollars. Does the company you’re buying goods or services from care about you and your community? If not, why are you gracing them with your financial and/or physical presence? For those who are more involved we want them to join us in demanding that structural changes be made that will make sure equity, diversity, and inclusion are ingrained in the fabric of the cannabis industry.

NP: The Accountability list is a living and breathing document so we’ll be updating and adding to it regularly. The goal is to make it the most expansive database so consumers and folks in the space can make more informed decisions about how they decide to participate in cannabis and who they choose to support. 

Do you think more Black-owned and POC-owned brands will now receive the attention and necessary funds for growth?

KG: Cannaclusive’s collaboration with Almost Consulting on InclusiveBase—with Kieryn Wang—has helped highlight BIPOC businesses in the industry. Currently we have almost 500 organizations listed and we’re working to create a more robust experience for all who use the database. I see a great opportunity for organizations on The Accountability List to connect with BIPOC via InclusiveBase to build lasting relationships. The same goes for consumers. There are so many BIPOC with quality goods and services who lack the funds to heavily market themselves like multi-state operators.

Share your thoughts on the upcoming election!

MS: I believe this is one of the most important elections in our history. We must vote. While we may not be “excited” by our options we are witnessing our very right to live being ripped from us by this current administration. I’ll say it again, we must vote! It is imperative that I mention we must vote in all elections and not just the presidential election. Our local elections are where we can get the real work done. It’s also necessary to share that voting isn’t the end of the process, we must make sure they do the job for the people. We must be multifaceted to create the change we need. Protest, make sure your voice is heard by contacting your representatives and vote – it seals the deal. 

NP: This upcoming presidential election is definitely important but local elections have gained in importance in the past decade. There are many state-specific legalization bills coming up that include expungement, re-entry programs and other cannabis social equity programs that we need to push for. 

KG: I concur with Maya and Natasha’s assessments. Democracy will not thrive under a president and legislative body committed to causing harm to its citizens. Local elections and state specific bills are increasingly important. While some may be dismayed by their options in the presidential elections it is still important to get out the vote; even if one is focused on state and city appointments. 

Lastly, what is it you want the cannabis industry to get right?

NCG: The cannabis industry is unique. Any person that seeks to profit, control, influence, legislate, regulate should acknowledge the history of state violence and race-specific policies of oppression that shaped prohibition, demonstrate understanding of our unique moment of legal contradiction and the opportunities that provides, demonstrate a willingness to respond to our obligation to use this industry to repair the harms of the war on drugs, and to support this movement for Black lives. We must hold our institutions, both public and private, accountable to the need for profound changes in the outcomes of this industry. It must equitably distribute the opportunities and power that our industry produces, or we will have failed to legalize cannabis in the pursuit of progressing our public consciousness towards justice. 

MP: Admitting that the industry is trying to erase the legacy of Black, Indigenous existence and history would be nice as a first. Secondly creating equity in every level of the industry for those who the industry is profiting off of in the first place. Third – having the realization point that true equity and inclusion requires giving up something due to privilege and systemic racism.

I am not sure if that will happen. But then again – this is what would be nice before we even got to the point of talking about what the industry can do to be better.