Published by Marijuana Matters on 5/8/20
I was a high school English teacher and a new mom when I first started writing about the cannabis industry. My research opened my eyes to the racist, xenophobic, and economically foolish ideas undergirding cannabis prohibition.
Legal cannabis has the potential to repair some of the damage done by the war on drugs if policymakers write equity into the law. That’s where Marijuana Matters comes in. The social enterprise leverages cannabis legalization to lift communities economically disadvantaged by marijuana prohibition out of poverty.
When Khadijah Tribble, CEO of Marijuana Policy Trust, founder of Marijuana Matters, and Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Curaleaf, reached out to me, it was impossible to turn the opportunity to write for Marijuana Matters down.
The legal cannabis industry gave me meaningful work and irreplaceable hours with my children. I agreed to work with Khadijah because she is on a mission to make these kinds of opportunities accessible to people who need them most. And she’s building a team of women who can make that happen.
Courtney Davis: The Voice of Marijuana Matters
Courtney Davis is the Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations for Marijuana Matters. She leads community and government outreach initiatives designed to promote equitable cannabis policies.
This involves forming coalitions, distributing Marijuana Matters’ equity regulations toolkit to activists across the country, working with different legislators as they implement equitable policies, and providing individual business owners with technical assistance, skills, and pathways into the industry.
Before joining Marijuana Matters, Courtney served as Legislative Assistant to Senator Michael F. Bennet (D-CO). She primarily advised Sen. Bennet on agricultural and veterans’ affairs policies. Prior to her career on the Hill, she worked on several successful campaigns including Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, and Mayor Michael Hancock of Denver.
A more traditional career path for someone with her experience would be to become a lobbyist for a large company operating in an industry legalized at both the state and federal levels.
“I really wanted a new challenge,” Courtney continued. “Cannabis is one of the fastest growing industries in the States. I knew that I had a policy background and that there weren’t a lot of people of color in this space. I think that the industry has an image problem. I felt that I would be able to have a positive impact on that.”
The war on drugs pushed a narrative that cannabis in the hands of black people is criminal. When someone like Courtney becomes an advocate for black owned cannabis businesses, the story evolves.
“I really wanted to show that it’s okay if you are really smart, you’re educated, you have worked in very prestigious places to transition into a cannabis or cannabis adjacent industry and still be well-respected,” she said.
Courtney’s advice to policy makers of color who are interested in transitioning into the cannabis space is practical: use the tools you already have.
“I think a lot of individuals will be surprised to know that you could enter into the industry just by what you do right now,” she said. “I know that especially in the policy space, a lot of people are getting tired of talking to rooms full of white men and people who really don’t even know what they’re talking about.”
SW-J: The Feel of Marijuana Matters
SW-J currently works full time in an industry that may not approve of her involvement in the cannabis space. She’s decided to work with Khadijah anyway as the Culture and Content Curator for Marijuana Matters.
Her role requires her to manage the organization’s various social media platforms, “not only to grow our followship for the sake of number,” SW-J explains, “but also from a very authentic standpoint where they are riding with the mission.”
Marijuana Matters targets three audiences. The first is made up of those who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of marijuana but are curious about working in the regulated industry. SJ-W’s role involves educating people about the totality of what regulated cannabis has to offer along with how they can benefit from the industry’s presence in their communities.
The second audience is made of those who remain undecided about the benefits of legalizing marijuana. She believes this group is primarily comprised of Baby Boomers, but also older Millennials. A generation of minorities has grown up watching cannabis prohibition devastate their families and communities. For these people, intentionally and publicly becoming involved with weed may sound like a needless risk. SW-J wants to change that perception.
“We’ve inherited some of the negative stigmatization around marijuana,” she said. “I attribute that to seeing all of the backlash the black community has gone through as it relates to marijuana. It’s basically been a vehicle used to destroy and weaponize and criminalize our black and brown people.”
The third audience SW-J identifies is comprised of large businesses and foundations that want to capitalize on marijuana but who do not have issues of equity on their radar. SJ-W’s commitment to elevating vulnerable people on these businesses’ list of priorities has drawn her to the mission of Marijuana Matters.
“My focus when I studied English for undergrad and criminal justice for grad school was on alternative sentencing. When I wasn’t able to find a seat at that table,” she continued, “I went into social services because my heart and my passion is always to help vulnerable groups of people.”
SJ-W’s advice to women who want to enter the industry, but like her may face the repercussions of stigma, is to challenge that thinking within themselves and find a way to pursue it anyway.
“Many of us are used to the old way of what being entangled with the industry would bring us,” she explained. “It would bring us a sentence, a charge. It would bring us grief or bring us separation of kids and parents. We have all this trauma that is associated with the industry. But I would say it’s a new day. This industry can definitely be a source of liberation.”
Khadijah Tribble: The Heart of Marijuana Matters
The paucity of black faces in leadership positions within the cannabis industry is not lost on Khadijah Tribble, founder of Marijuana Matters and Marijuana Policy Trust. In addition to making the regulated cannabis industry’s economic opportunities more accessible to those most impacted by the war on drugs, Khadijah wants to see her team flourish—even if that journey eventually takes them away from Marijuana Matters.
“I predict that there is not one major consulting firm that will not have a marijuana practice in the next five years,” she said. “So if you want to go lead a practice at one of those other consulting firms—that’s a great idea to me,” Khadijah said, directing her comment to Courtney.
“Because then I might ask you to intern some people. That doesn’t mean I want you to leave this year, Courtney. So don’t even think about that,” Khadijah added with a laugh.
“My hope is that Marijuana Matters is a training ground for the pipeline,” she said about the organization. “So the Courtneys, the SJ-W’s of the world will move and shift and make room for the next group of folks who are going to want to test the waters in a safe space and then go on and do some great things in some other capacity.”
Khadijah’s perspective is wider than the present legal and cultural status of cannabis. When it comes to evaluating risk, she considers the past and what it says about the future.
“Remember, marching in the street as a black person for your rights was a real risky thing 40 years ago. That could end your job. That could end your life. Now people just show up in solidarity with the signs, and it’s not risky anymore,” she said.
“Even as a gay person,” Khadijah continued. “Just 20 years ago, being gay and out was such a risky thing to do. Now, it adds value to yourself. You know, it’s a part of something that says, ‘Oh, we’ve arrived.’ And so I would say don’t think about the risk right now. Think about the reward if you’re really interested in this space 10, 15 years from now.”
Khadijah received her Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy school in her 40’s, founded two cannabis businesses, and holds an executive position for Curaleaf (OTC: CURLF), the largest multistate cannabis operator in the US. She is also an LGBTQ, black woman balancing the delicate act of working both externally from and within the “system.” When she says the risks are worth it, she knows what she’s talking about.
The systemic obstacles women and people of color must face in order to enter the cannabis industry and thrive in their businesses are real. Marijuana Matters exists to address those. But there is also the obstacle of fear and the inaction it inspires.
Don’t let fear stop you from taking that first step toward your passion, your plan A, your mission. If the women of Marijuana Matters have anything to show about pursuing the economic opportunities offered by the regulated cannabis market, it’s this: they are there if you are willing to go after them.