Cannabis for Black Lives is a nonprofit organization that wants you venture-backed, cash-rich cannabis companies to put your money where your lips are.
“What many of us realized is there were so many organizations that pledged that they would make huge changes within their organization, that they would do more for people who have been impacted by the War on Drugs, and then what happened? It fell so flat.”
– Kassia Graham
They recognize that social equity won’t be what it needs to be unless the majority of businesses in cannabis speak up in support of fixing how trash the U.S Government’s War on Drugs is, and more importantly, put some of their dollars and real, public action behind their support.
Plenty of companies actually do care about making change, however the analysis paralysis of “But I don’t know how.”
The work, the people, and companies of Cannabis for Black Lives does on a monthly basis aims to make that answer obsolete.
What does Cannabis for Black Lives do?
It was created to address a new phenomenon that began in the height of the Black Square era. You know the one.
The one where corporations across all industries said they were going to make some internal changes to empower people of color both inside and outside of their companies including hiring, better pay, philanthropy, and creating a fair playing field full of deserved opportunities.
Well, a lot of that didn’t happen, and Cannabis for Black Lives saw the whole thing. But unlike the companies, they watched use social equity as a ploy, they found ways to uplift Black-led cannabis companies with intention and expediency.
“What many of us realized is there were so many organizations that pledged that they would make huge changes within their organization, that they would do more for people who have been impacted by the War on Drugs, and then what happened? It fell so flat. We want to make sure that people who are a part of Cannabis For Black Lives are keeping those promises,” says Kassia Graham, Director of Community & Strategy, during a Zoom with some of CfBL’s leadership team.
To help companies keep these promises, Cannabis for Black Lives serves as the connective tissue that gathers cannabis brands, does the work of sourcing communal funds, and created a system where every two months they partner with and provide financial support to a different organization in the social equity space.
How the Hood Incubator advances change in the cannabis industry
“When we started structuring this body of brands, thinking hey if brands work together, set themselves to standards, and held themselves accountable in three key areas: raising money and donating it to organizations that are doing the work; diversifying their social media feeds and highlighting Black and Brown voices in cannabis; and people upliftment, hiring, mentorship, all things that pertain to building diverse teams at every level, then this industry would be better off,” says Luke Anderson, co-founder of CANN and active member of Cannabis for Black Lives.
How to become a member of Cannabis for Black Lives
Becoming a member of Cannabis for Black Lives is as simple as making reasonable, consistent donations, attending mandatory monthly virtual meetings, and committing to three pillars of support for Cannabis for Black partner organizations:
- Amplification of partner organizations via digital channels
- Financial support of partner organizations
- <$1m annual rev: $250-2.5k
- $1-10m annual rev: $2.5k
- >$10m annual rev: $2.5k+
- Uplifting Black people in cannabis through company hiring, company culture, and mentorship
Committing to change past the Black Square era
Though simple to join, being a member of Cannabis for Black Lives is about way more than just dollars. Companies have to commit to long-term change in operations and company culture, along with advocacy for everything social justice in cannabis stands for.
“[Cannabis for Black Lives} is an entirely volunteer-run organization. It really illustrates the power of getting companies with resources to all agree to come together, and how quickly you can pull together real sums of money without having to spend on headcount.”
– Luke Anderson
“It’s not just a matter of us wanting new members. We want people to modify their way of thinking, and have the actions that come from that be a reflection of this more informed thought when it comes to how cannabis has impacted people of color, queer folks, and people with disabilities,” Graham tells me.
In 2020, plenty of companies said they were down for this, joined CfBL for a couple of months to do some performative allyship, and then they dipped out. Since then, CfBL has moved towards a long-term commitment system that will hopefully prevent this in the future.
Anderson says “We had 50 people show up at first, and 20 turned. Largely it was all within the first couple of months. They wanted to make a statement, performative allyship, and when the rubber hit the road, nothing.”
On membership, Graham states “Even if someone is not ready to join us, if they are just able to amplify who we are and what we do for people in the space who they think would be a good fit and interested in this, that would be fantastic.”
Cannabis for Black Lives impact thus far
Each year, Cannabis for Black Lives works with partner organizations that are selected by the CfBL Board of Directors. Supernova Women was CfBL’s first-ever partner.
Since then, they’ve also partnered with Equitable Opportunities Now; The Hood incubator; Copperhouse Detroit; and Our Dream and their associated workshops, Our Academy.
“We are pretty plugged into what these organizations do, who they are, who’s operating them, so it doesn’t necessarily take us too long to figure out who we want to work with. Once we do, we also look at what the need is, how many folks they are able to impact, and what it is that they’re doing. While we have some people that are more so set in their organizations, we have the Hood Incubator and Our Dream, which have been more of national organizations,” Kassia tells Leafly about how they select organizations to partner with.
Supernova Women fight for equity-focused cannabis businesses in Oakland
Despite existing for such a short amount of time, Cannabis for Black Lives has had some tremendous accomplishments. For one, just being able to bring together so many companies to support such an important cause is a feat in itself.
Kassia runs a monthly meeting that’s attended by 30-plus cannabis brand leadership team members, in addition to having successfully led 5 campaigns that have donated tens of thousands of dollars to all of CfBL’s partner organizations.
For example, one of their partners, Copperhouse Detroit runs 420-friendly bed and breakfast with a focus on body positivity and queerness in the cannabis industry. Together with Cannabis for Black Lives, they were able to raise nearly $40,000. And that’s just one partner. In total, CfBL has raised over $170,000 to date.
“I think it’s as much as the Last Prisoner Project raised in its first year of operations,” Luke says. “[Cannabis for Black Lives] is an entirely volunteer-run organization. It really illustrates the power of getting companies with resources to all agree to come together, and how quickly you can pull together real sums of money without having to spend on headcount. We don’t even have a budget. Everything we do is just done on its own.”