Progressive would not be the first word you would use to describe Saint Louis, MO. But, things are changing. In 2021, the city elected Tishaura Jones as its mayor, the first Black woman to hold that office in the city’s history.

Other Black women like Marne Madison are working hard to build the Saint Louis they want to see. Marne is the Executive Director for Exit-Now, a not-for-profit organization advocating for minorities to get the training and education necessary to enter the cannabis industry.

Exit-Now is partnering with licensed cannabis vendors and education programs across the country to help break the glass barriers preventing minorities from entering the cannabis industry.

As Madison explains, “the war on drugs, which led to mass incarcerations in minority communities for non-violent offenses, and a now-legal industry that is too often out-of-reach for these same communities.”

Aiding minorities seeking justice and assistance

Exit-Now’s fundamental belief is that “communities most impacted by the war on drugs should not continue to suffer while large corporations’ profit, and their progress hasn’t been made alone.

off-white graphic with black text that reads "creating inclusion in the cannabis industry through education" along with Exit-now's mission statement in caption
Exit-Now’s mission: “As a minority ran non-profit, our sole mission is to help communities exit systems of oppression by providing tools that help educate and empower.”

The organization has brought on Saint Louis University as its main partner to bring this initiative to life. Through the university’s Cannabis Science and Operations program, Exit and SLU have created the Equity-Now scholarship to create more diversity and inclusion in the local cannabis workforce. 

SLU and Exit-Now have also created the Round-Up for Equity initiative giving Cannabis patients and consumers the opportunity to round-up purchases at dispensaries to help provide cannabis industry education for minorities. 

Each penny collected at dispensaries will go directly to the Equity-Now scholarship fund at SLU. Swade Dispensaries is the first in the state to participate. With five medical marijuana dispensaries in Missouri, Swade is stepping up to play a role that’s been vacant in the state so far.


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“By agreeing to round up to the nearest dollar in sales, per transaction patients and consumers are assisting in paying the tuition for a student to enroll and successfully complete all semesters of SLU’s Cannabis Science and Operations Certificate,” Madison said.

Exit-Now is also ready to hold Missouri’s first expungement clinic and workshop on February 27, 2022.

Why Saint Louis needs help from Exit-Now

Lexi Wilkinson is a product specialist at Swade and an ambassador for the Round-Up program. She jumped at the chance to work with Exit-Now based on her past experiences. Wilkinson has a Master’s degree in psychology with an emphasis in equity and inclusion. She’s seen the data about how Black and brown communities are impacted by cannabis. 

Wilkinson explains, “Ultimately, it is crucial that the patients at our store have access to information concerning the future of cannabis and societal health for all people. The information isn’t just for us in the dispensary.”

Exit-Now is creating a new pipeline for Midwestern minorities in cannabis. Too many have fallen into prison instead of a cannabis education program or a friendly dispensary.

Wilkinson is hopeful that the future of cannabis will be as diverse as its users. “I would like to see people reflected in cannabis companies that represent the diversity of patients and backgrounds at all levels of the cannabis industry, especially [in jobs] at the top.”

With changemakers like Marne Madison and Lexi Wilkinson, and institutes like Saint Louis University stepping up, change is inevitable. It’s less about how and more about when.

Could your city use a program like Exit-Now? Comment below about your ideas on how we can rectify the war on drugs.

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Ryan Brown

Ryan is a content creator, copywriter, and entrepreneur from St. Louis living in Chicago. He’s a basketball fanatic, hip-hop enthusiast, indica lover that enjoys binge-watching TV shows and classic movies.

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