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From the Editor: Diversity from the ground up


April 19, 2021
By Mari-Len De Guzman


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Photo: Дженіфер Сікора/Adobestock

Every year on March 8, we observe International Women’s Day, celebrating the social, economic and political achievements and impact of women across the globe. 

This issue of Grow Opportunity is our own recognition of not just women but BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of colour) women who are blazing trails in the cannabis industry. The three women profiled in our cover story – Ashley Athill, Antuanette Gomez and Vivianne Wilson – are entrepreneurs in their own right. Consciously or subconsciously, they are paving a path for women and women of colour not only to aspire to “move up the corporate ladder” but to build their own empire. 

Latest data reveal that women hold 37 per cent of executive and senior level positions in the U.S. cannabis industry. The numbers in Canada are a little wanting. A report in 2020 from the University of Toronto analyzed the race and gender of 700 C-suite executives and directors at 222 Canadian cannabis businesses, and found the make up to be primarily white at 84 per cent, and male at 86 per cent.

The report’s co-author, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor in U of T Mississauga’s Department of Sociology, emphasized the barriers to entry are still very high. To become a licensed producer and sell cannabis at a meaningful scale requires a lot of money, resources and connections, Owusu-Bempah said.

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It is evident the barriers are high for women; for BIPOC women, it’s even higher. The lack of racial diversity in the  upper echelons of the cannabis industry is rooted in history, where people of colour have been disproportionately targeted by law enforcement for marijuana-related offences during the prohibition era.

But history can also provide a silver lining in the efforts to increase representation of women and women of colour in the cannabis industry. This legal cannabis market was built on the backs of grassroots activism that fought against systemic racism and judicial inequity. This grassroots activism is creating a generation of BIPOC leaders carving their own path in the cannabis industry, outside the realm of the capital-market-driven, multimillion dollar corporate game.

The three women featured in our cover story are just a small representation of the agility, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that fuel the diversity that defines this industry on the ground level. 

The first black-led licensed producer, the first black-owned licensed cannabis retail store and a BIPOC-led company that embraces and responds to the unique health and wellness challenges of women – these are the trails being blazed from the ground up by passionate entrepreneurs embracing their unique perspectives, yet defining a legacy that transcends the bounds of gender and colour. 

As a young industry, the cannabis sector is in a position to accomplish what other industries, to date, are still trying to achieve. At just over two years old, the cannabis industry seems to be on the right track with 21 per cent of senior leadership roles occupied by women. 

Let’s not stop there. Let’s also not stop at gender equality, but strive for a systematic destruction of racial inequity across all sectors within the cannabis space.  

That is the only way we can achieve a truly meaningful industry, one that does not just line the pockets of shareholders and retiring CEOs, but an industry that serves and enriches the very community that fought hard to make all this a reality.