In honor of National Expungement Works' Week of Action and Awareness, multistate cannabis company Terrapin highlighted social equity and expungement partnerships in an effort to drive widespread industry leadership around the critical issue of diversity, equity and inclusion.
"At Terrapin, we recognize that one of our duties as a responsible community member is to understand that our professions are inextricably linked to a system that was built to deliberately subjugate already marginalized communities," said Chris Woods, founder, and CEO of Terrapin. "With this in mind, one focus of our extensive corporate social responsibility program is eliminating policies, practices, attitudes, actions, and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes based on race. The cannabis industry is in a unique position to lead on this subject, which is why Terrapin is calling on all cannabis companies to work toward meaningful reforms that right the wrongs of a failed, systemically racist war on drugs."
The cannabis industry has fallen woefully behind in addressing social equity for those disproportionately impacted by a racist war on drugs. Each year since 2001, the United States has averaged more than 600,000 cannabis arrests, with Black individuals being roughly four times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for possession. This is despite consuming cannabis at similar rates. Minority participation in the cannabis sector remains unbalanced and skewed toward white people, with a 2017 Marijuana Business Daily survey finding the overwhelming majority of legal cannabis businesses (a staggering 81%) are white-owned. Black and Latino business owners make up just about 4% and 5% of the industry, respectively.
In order to gain a competitive advantage and help make the industry more accessible, diverse, and equitable for everyone, forward-thinking cannabis companies must increase their social equity emphasis. This means donating to or creating beneficial partnerships with nonprofit organizations and social justice groups while also mentoring and hiring individuals from minority communities.
Boulder, Colorado-based Terrapin is a minority-owned business in operation since 2009. With nearly 500 employees across four states — Colorado, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Missouri — Terrapin has placed a significant focus on social equity efforts. Partnerships are in place with the Black and Brown Cannabis Guild, The Color of Cannabis, and Cannabis Impact Fund to advance equity efforts in local communities. Terrapin also established an internal DEI Committee to address fostering an anti-racist culture within its own organization. The committee kicked off with anti-racist training for Terrapin leadership, organized by Cannabis Impact Fund, a national organization leveraging cannabis dollars to impact equity efforts across the burgeoning cannabis industry. Terrapin is a founding member of the Cannabis Impact Fund.
"With nearly half of all people arrested for drug law violations being Black or Latino despite those groups making up just over 30% of the U.S. population, it's become painfully obvious that cannabis has been a key driver of mass criminalization in our country," said Kelly Perez, co-founder of Cannabis Impact Fund. "As an industry, cannabis needs to develop a long-term strategy that not only focuses on activating the cannabis sector toward social justice but galvanizes organizations into action. With a focus on moving good policy forward, conscious community outreach, and creating best practices that contribute a shared economic benefit, we can — together — foster a more equitable, diverse, and representative cannabis industry."
Michigan-based Black and Brown Cannabis Guild, of which Terrapin is a founding corporate partner, is organizing expungement fairs across the state. Expungement services — separate from National Expungement Works' Week of Action and Awareness — kicked off Sept. 25 in Flint and will continue on Sept. 28 in Grand Rapids, Sept. 29 in Benton Harbor, Oct. 1 in Muskegon, and Oct. 2 in Detroit. Pro bono legal support partners and volunteers will be present to offer free background checks, gratuitous legal consultations with a licensed Michigan attorney, complimentary notary services, fingerprint vouchers/appointments at no cost, employment opportunities, and other community wraparound services, including voter registration, education, family support programs and more.
"Whether the conversation surrounds employment opportunities, housing, or securing a loan, entirely too many people are still fighting to clear the criminal records standing in the way of their basic necessities," said Denavvia Mojet, executive director of BBCG. "We are proud to partner with a forward-thinking company at the forefront of the cannabis industry's evolution to bring expungement, employment, civic engagement, and support services to communities throughout the great state of Michigan."
Terrapin acknowledges that social equity functions to address root causes of identity-based disparities, which is why the company collaborates with about 40 nonprofit community organizations working toward the same just society that Terrapin envisions. By the end of 2021, Terrapin will have contributed more than $1 million in donations to the communities in which it operates.
In addition to supporting organizations that work to increase equity in its communities of operation and directly address expungement, Terrapin also partners with organizations like The Color of Cannabis to provide opportunities for community members negatively impacted by the war on drugs. Terrapin leadership volunteers as experts for workshops at The Color of Cannabis in Colorado, with the goal of mentorship relationships that allow people of color to participate — and prosper — in the legal cannabis space. Terrapin also utilized The Color of Cannabis for a social equity job fair conducted virtually in Michigan as Terrapin launched operations in June 2020.
"It has been a pleasure collaborating with Terrapin, a company whose leadership truly recognizes and understands the urgent need to have more minority representation in the cannabis industry," said Sarah Woodson, founder of The Color of Cannabis. "By committing to make social equity, diversity, and inclusion an integral part of its internal and external business practices, Terrapin is unique in helping us realize our mission and vision of providing a pathway to opportunities aimed at increasing the number of minorities not only working in the cannabis industry but being leaders and people in power."
Terrapin recently became the first and only known cannabis company in Aurora, Colorado, to partner with a social equity transporter, High Demand Delivery, for exclusive delivery to consumers from Terrapin's two Aurora locations. While other local dispensaries claimed social equity was significant to them, entirely too many opted to do delivery themselves instead of working with a social equity transporter.
"By partnering with incredible organizations like Black and Brown Cannabis Guild, The Color of Cannabis and Cannabis Impact Fund, we are in a unique position to lead by example," Woods added. "Terrapin shares the vision of ensuring that people harmed by prohibition and discriminatory law enforcement are able to legitimately thrive in a new legal cannabis industry. It is our moral and societal duty as leaders in the space to not only move the conversation forward but also take action and encourage others across the industry to help create a more diverse and equitable industry overall."