On March 8, 2020, Mss_Oregon welcomed all to the 2nd Annual National Cannabis Diversity Awareness Convention (NCDAC) held at the Redd Salmon Event Space in Portland, Oregon. As per their website, this unique convention is designed to help those working in the cannabis space built their business portfolio and company networks to represent the diverse country we live in.
Throughout the day, speakers addressed a range of issues commenting on how cannabis intersects with a range of topics including housing issues surrounding home consumption, breaking the stigmas around Mexican culture and cannabis use, and the professional difficulties encountered by entertainers who consumer cannabis. This event was followed by sets of comedy and musical performances celebrating this cultures behind this plant. Also, those vendors on display tended to be those not seen at more mainstream cannabis conferences with a clear focus on highlighting the range of products offered by businesses led by people of color.
For those not familiar with Mss_Oregon, she is a philanthropist and Public Speaker who founded founder of NCDAC, as well as WeGrowPDX, WeGrowCBD & WeGrowTHC. I first connected with her at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference (CCC) held in Portland, Oregon from February 23-24, 2019. At this conference they highlighted the role of women in the industry by hosting the first Leaf Ladies Networking Brunch sponsored by Greenspoon Marder, LLP.
Following this brunch, I moderated a panel titled “Direction of Equality: Conversations about Women & People of Color in the Cannabis Industry.” Present on this panel were Mss_Oregon, Cannabis Diversity Advocate, AmbitPDX; Lisa Snyder, Founder & CEO, Tokeativity; and Jeannette Ward Horton, Executive Director and Co-Founder, NuLeaf Project.
When I asked Mss_Oregon about the obstacles facing people of color entering the cannabis space, she reflected how capital remains a major barrier. “Our companies are looked at with more scrutiny by investors and sponsors than the white companies. They’re more judgmental and look at us with more scrutiny, which holds us back and keeps us from growing our businesses.” In her estimation, this is not a prudent approach for those looking to profit in the cannabis space. “People should change their perspectives on how they spend their money because tradition is not where your money is going to come from. It’s going to be the innovative investors and a creative idea makers who are going to be the leaders in this. Eventually, this will put those traditional people outside of the market because everyone is pushing for innovative ideas.”
When looking at those women cannabis leaders profiled in the media, Mss_Oregon notes how seldom women of color are included in this mix except as a nod to prove the organization is inclusive. “Whenever people give themselves a pat on the back for helping someone of color, they really need to step back and take another look at themselves because it makes them look less authentic.” For those who want to help raise up people of color in an authentic manner, Mss_Oregon suggests hiring people of color on your team, as well as purchasing products made by people of color. “Acceptance and equality is not the same thing. All I want for our business is to be treated equally."