Building a more inclusive cannabis landscape demands that we first acknowledge that the history of cannabis in Canada includes the harmful treatment of marginalized communities, including thousands of Canadians set back as a result of charges for minor cannabis offences. “Cannabis laws have a troubled history in this country,” says Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, director of research for the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty and assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, whose research includes race, criminal justice and policing in Canada. “Legalization provides an opportunity to repair issues caused by prohibition.”
So how can we help repair the damage and move toward a more diverse and inclusive future? It’s a long road, but business leaders across the cannabis industry are introducing social equity initiatives with programs that employ people who have previous cannabis offences or that support BIPOC communities and businesses. “The OCS is committed to helping build a more diverse and inclusive industry by striving toward a workforce that is representative of the Ontario population, through our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, and commitment to the BlackNorth pledge,” says Carla Stewart, senior director of human resources at OCS.
Cannabis consumers can do their part by supporting Indigenous and Black-owned Authorized Retailers — several have popped up in Ontario this year. We talked to the teams at GreenPort and Mota Toke about the importance of Black entrepreneurship in the licensed cannabis industry.
Since opening their doors in Toronto’s Little India in November 2020, Mota Toke owners Tyrone Bramble and Dwight Clark have already built a loyal store following. Originally from Scarborough, Ont., the two drew from their West Indian backgrounds to build a store brand with a strong ethos. “We really wanted to make a difference by getting into an industry that hasn’t always favoured minorities,” says Clark, who adds that both his and Bramble’s families have been negatively impacted by cannabis convictions. “Mota” is the street name for cannabis in parts of Latin America and a nod to BIPOC who would know the term. Hoping to inspire other young, Black entrepreneurs, the Mota Toke duo have set their sights on expanding the brand and increasing their visibility in the cannabis business community. “Having two young Black owners is great representation for our culture, which has dealt with a negative stigma, multiplied by countless injustices over the years,” says Clark. The Mota Toke team is excited to make their mark on the cannabis landscape while creating space for more BIPOC to join them.
Located in Toronto’s Little Italy, GreenPort opened its doors in October 2020. Founder and CEO Vivianne Wilson’s values and vision are rooted in serving the local community by providing educational opportunities and a safe and welcoming space for under-represented and marginalized people. “GreenPort is about making space for those who have fought for centuries for the use and acceptance of cannabis. We are advocates of proper cannabis education and equity within the regulatory processes of cannabis licensing and sales,” says Wilson. She invites community members to learn more about cannabis and its history through in-store workshops.
Wilson wanted to see appropriate representation in the cannabis industry and decided to be that change in the Canadian cannabis market. “We’re telling a different story than the big guys. We’re proud to celebrate the culture and history of cannabis. At GreenPort, we’re building a community from the ground up, where every single person can join us and know they belong,” she says.
Wilson’s strong values and vision are rooted in serving the local community. “As a child growing up in Westmoreland, Jamaica, I experienced the value of community — this laid the foundation for the journey that got me here, to create GreenPort,” she says.
New to the cannabis market, Cori opened its doors in Toronto in January 2021 for (curbside) business. By offering a collection of highly curated cannabis products and online educational webinars, founder Lula Fukur hopes this shop will help customers find wellness by getting back to their roots. “Growing up in Eritrea, I developed an intimate relationship with everything that came from the earth,” says the Queen Street West shop owner.
Fukur, who has called Canada home for the past eight years, acquired her keen business sense through her family’s businesses in Dubai and Africa. Now she is expanding the Cori all-natural wellness product brand into the licensed cannabis retail market.