Traveling the world of cannabis and equity takes some patience. For some entrepreneurs, social equity is a buzzword with little energy and for others it’s a lifestyle. This week’s Cannabis Corner highlights the Benzinga Conference in Miami where we chat with a few Chicagoans who found their way down south and catch up with a budtender who paints an inclusive picture of the existing harms of the industry on Chicago’s Hispanic community.
Miama Benzinga welcomed hundreds of industry insiders and advocates. Local Chicago advocate Belcia Royster, Founder & Chief Equity Officer of the Social Equity Empowerment network spoke candidly about providing pathways to ancillary experiences on the Translating Policy into Action moderated by founder of BIPOCANN Ernest Toney. “S.E.E.N. provides education and holistic approaches to align skill sets that are relevant in the cannabis space.” Royster was joined by Loriel Alegrete CEO of 40 Tons and cannabis business attorney Rachael Ardanuy of RZA Legal. Royster further expressed the need for organizations like hers to be in partnership with cannabis businesses. “Ultimately it is about culture, community and connection.
A lot of CEOs don’t understand what workers are experiencing. It can result in your company being more unsuccessful. “Penetrating the legacy market hasn’t been easy,” said Royster “but engaging organizations that have the trusted relationships with the community and can bridge gaps between the community and corporate,” she said.
Shaquita Love, nurse and owner of Love Rx Organics also traveled from Chicago. Love and a number of others received social equity scholarships. “I would have wanted to be here but without the scholarship I don’t know if I could afford the investment,” she shared. The award waived registration fees which for some would have been at a minimum a $500 investment.
Gia Morón, President of Women Grow has a partnership with Benzinga and the applications her company uses for expo space inviting 7-8 women businesses owners to exhibit in the space. Gia shared, “We in cannabis have to become more active not just in the industry but we need make sure we are voting and getting to now political leaders at local levels.”
About 100 scholarships were awarded to women and minority attendees totaling more than $50,000 to support attendance at Benzinga. Taranda Ransom, CEO, HerbloCo (pictured with Marne Madison, COO HerbloCo., and Ennis Gilbert, CMO HerbloCO.) currently hold a transportation license in Illinois and were recipients of the scholarship to attend. “We need to be in these rooms because it is important for us to provide solutions and strategies to those
individuals who are invested in minority inclusion in cannabis,” shared the budding CEO.
Jojo Plascencia’s family migrated from Jalisco, Mexico in 2010 to settle in Chicago. Coming from a farming family working in the Cannabis Sector came as second nature to Jojo. His family first lived in Roseland and recently moved to Blue Island just two years ago. “Cannabis has been in my life as long as I can remember, a lot of families grew cannabis as a regular crop,” shared Jojo.
He was only 20 years old when cannabis legalization gained traction. “I remember on the day I turned in my resume it was my 21st Birthday and I got an opportunity to work for Bedford Grow, a woman owned business that allowed me to get in the legal side of cannabis,” shared Jojo. Currently he works for Mission Dispensary and is enjoying working with the public. Placencia is in a precarious position. While social equity conversations are plentiful, he believes there is a missed opportunity to work towards accomplishing equity unless is clear on how other marginalized groups are impacted. “Cannabis is still federally illegal; when applying for citizenship you are required to be a good citizen and since this plant is still a Schedule 1 drug, any contact with this industry anytime you apply you are denied citizenship,” shared Placencia.
Chicago News Weekly confirmed Placencia’s denial of citizenship due to “lack of morals.” Jojo and other entrepreneurs, advocates and employees in the industry are fighting two battles at once. In order for holistic equity approaches to be authentic, the nuances of industry equity pitfalls must be understood by all.
Non-citizens can’t vote in America. As the Black cannabis community works towards lobbying and getting allies to support Black equity centered initiatives it will require votes at multiple levels. While immigration has rarely been discussed relative to social equity, the push for federal legalization to protect efforts is clear as day.
Application denials are costly. Filing for citizenship is nearly $1,000. When asked about if he would reapply Jojo Responded, “Honestly if its going to happen for me. I’m deep into the industry. I’ve made the choice to just let it go, there’s nothing people can do to argue and technically you are committing a crime,” said Jojo. Placencia wants the public to see Latino’s and Blacks can work together for cannabis equity. Indeed, more should be done for all cultural communities. Jojo has taken a brave first step in sharing his story to put us on for a community some of us are foreign to ourselves.