Looking Beyond Licenses for Social Equity

Published on 5/2/20 by Marijuana Matters

You can check the social equity temperature of a dispensary by the brands featured on its shelves. Are the goods coming from an out of state, white-owned corporation, or the black-owned business operating 20 miles away? 

Conversations about equity in the cannabis space are centered around making licenses accessible to people harmed by the war on drugs. It is equally important to wrestle with the lack of representation in the supply chain. The dynamic shifts when a multi-state cannabis operator (MSO) actively looks for ways to put small, black-owned brands on the shelves of their stores.

Khadijah Tribble, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Curaleaf (OTC: CURLF), is creating an equity and inclusion strategy for the company. She will facilitate an eco-system that supports the communities Curaleaf serves. That means elevating cannabis businesses in communities of color.

Khadijah Tribble: Risk Taker, Do Gooder

“I was a little black girl from the South, born and raised by a single mom who lived in the projects,” Khadijah said. “I say those code words because they imply where my trajectory should’ve been.”

That implied trajectory didn’t include the Harvard Kennedy School, one of the top public affairs schools in the United States. Yet that’s where Khadijah received her Master of Public Administration in 2018.

Khadijah made her debut as an advocate for social equity in the cannabis space at Harvard Kennedy School as a Cheng Fellow at the Social Innovation Change Initiative. She knew that she wanted to introduce the focus of her work with two words: marijuana matters.

“I was scared to death,” Khadijah said, laughing as she remembered the agonizing contemplation leading to that introduction. “I talked to my wife, I talked to my mentor, I talked to my best friend. Do I use these 15 seconds to say marijuana policy is my thing? Do I want to be that girl? Will people take me seriously?”

Khadijah is black. She’s a woman. She’s gay. Khadijah and people like her have had a few more rungs to climb than cisgender, straight white men on the ladder to success. Pursuing social equity in cannabis policy was risky. Khadijah knew that, and so did the people closest to her.

“Everybody said don’t. Don’t do that. Do not talk about it,” she said. “My wife said it’s a risk, but if you feel compelled to do it, you should do it.”

Khadijah’s mission has always been to uplift the most marginalized. For her, the potential reward outweighed the risks.

“So I said my name is Khadijah Tribble, I have grandkids, and marijuana matters. And the auditorium just exploded.”

Since taking that risk, she has advised entrepreneurs, investors, and government regulators involved in the cannabis industry. Her expertise and reputation have taken her inside an industry that has failed to promote social equity in the past but has massive potential to become a force for good.

Leveraging Social Equity So Communities of Color Can Win

In 2017, Khadijah launched Marijuana Matters, an advocacy group working to lift the people most negatively impacted by the war on drugs out of poverty. Earlier this year, Marijuana Matters partnered with a local hotel chain in Washington D.C. offering CBD products in their mini-bar and adult-use recreational products to their VIP guests. Her team presented seven vendors to the hotel. Each vendor was connected to the returning citizens community. Five of those companies were invited to put their items on the bar.

In her capacity as VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at Curaleaf, Khadijah will be able to create these kinds of opportunities on a much larger scale. Khadijah believes that being strategic about partnerships and leveraging procurement choices will do that.

“All the goods and services necessary for us to do business —how much of that actually comes from the community that has been harmed by the war on drugs?” she asked. “Because I am in that room, we can have that conversation.” 

MSOs have not always prioritized social equity. This is why some may see Khadijah’s decision to work for the large, predominantly white corporation as a betrayal. But her recent appointment is a signal that Curaleaf is ready to move forward in a more progressive direction. Khadijah’s mission to improve the lives of the marginalized has been consistent for over a decade. Now she has a platform to extend the reach of that mission. 

“I can see Curaleaf partnering with Marijuana Matters down the road to put on a trade show that highlights and promotes the creative, kick ass community of folks who happen to be black and brown,” she said. “That’s going to cause people who weren’t going to buy a product before to buy it, and that’s going to increase the bottom line.”

“I felt like I had a stronger position if, instead of the check writer, I could be the person within the company that says here is our strategy,” she said. “Here are some ways in which we can operationalize the best practices of those strategies.”

Khadijah used the example of Bouqué, a black-owned business producing hemp rolling papers, to illustrate what that might look like.

“I want Bouqué in every dispensary that is allowed to have accessories being sold,” she said. “I want Bouqué to have a little display and I want 25% of all the sales of those rolling bouquets flowers to support cannabis research at Historically Black Colleges and University’s.”

Khadijah wants to leverage social equity the way that labels like vegan, organic, gluten free, and fair trade have been used to elevate a product’s status.  She wants to create strategic connections between the check writers and the small businesses operating in communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

As an advocate working through Marijuana Matters and Marijuana Policy Trust, Khadijah was able to knock on doors and get many of them open to ideas about social equity. As an executive within Curaleaf, she is in the house. She has a seat at the table where those ideas are being discussed.  Conversations about social equity won’t be glossed over. With Khadijah in the room, they will be a part of the agenda.

Published by Dianna K. Benjamin

Freelance writer.

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