Cannabis industry social equity advocates are calling an article by MG Retailer “irresponsible” for including Cresco, HempStaff, Revolution, and Vangst “as leaders of social equity work.” In a response to the MG Retailer article published in full by Medium, the signees call out the “oblivious commentary” as “the exact behavior that has created systemic and institutionalized racism that exists in America today.”
The article is authored by Beyond Equity Founder Chaney Turner, Illinois Equity Staffing Co-Founder Shawnee Williams, and THC Staffing Group Co-Founder Danielle Schumacher.
“The vast majority of owners of the companies in this article are white. White-owned companies should not be deciding what kind of help impacted communities need. White-owned companies should not be leading the development of social equity legislation and programs. If they truly want to claim they run equitable businesses, they would have to surrender ownership to Black and Latinx formerly-incarcerated people.” – Schumacher, Turner, and Williams
The authors point out that Cresco and Revolution are “party of the white-owned monopoly in Illinois” and call out Cresco for not filling jobs related to their SEED program – a social equity incubator program announced in May 2019 – that have been posted since last year. The advocates also said it “remains to be seen” whether or not participants from that program end up with a state license at all.
Schumacher, Turner, and Williams argue that HempStaff and Vangst both existed for about five years “before making any attempt to invest resources in candidates who qualify for social equity.”
“Their social equity programs are set up to serve owners who do not personally qualify for social equity and are not invested enough in impacted communities to build partnerships on their own,” the open letter states. “Until Vangst launched their social equity program, their slogan was ‘Be a Vangster’ and the people featured on their site were almost 100 percent white.”
The authors also call out MG Retailer for including Feel State on the list – the company is asking for donations to NORML and the Last Prisoner Project. Turner, Schumacher, and Williams point out that both of those advocacy organizations and “white founded and led … whose work is not centered on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities.”
“How does this make Feel State a company working for social equity?” the authors ask.
MG Retailer did include The Hood Incubator on the list and the authors included their own list of local and national non-profit groups doing social equity work in the cannabis space, including:
Cannabis Equity IL Coalition
Drug Policy Alliance
Minorities for Medical Marijuana
Minority Cannabis Business Association
The Equity Organization
Women of Color in Cannabis
James Yagielo, founder and CEO of HempStaff — one of the companies that were highlighted in MG Retailer’s article — said, “There seems to have been some confusion around our 2019 announcement of a Social Equity Division.”
“HempStaff has been assisting social equity applicants get hired and assisting minority owners find employees since 2015,” Yagielo said. “When certain states announced larger social equity programs in 2019, we started to get a massive amount of requests for social equity applicants, leading to the creation of its own division. We did not start looking into social equity in 2019, we simply expanded it.”
On Wednesday, the National Cannabis Industry Association announced the launch of a Social Equity Scholarship program that gives “any social equity applicant or license-holder” one free year of NCIA membership.
Khurshid Khoja, chairperson of NCIA’s board of directors, board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, and principal at Greenbridge Corporate Counsel, called the program “one way” that the organization “can help empower black and brown communities that were (and are) disproportionately targeted by law enforcement for cannabis offenses.”
Amber Senter, co-founder of Supernova Women and chairperson of NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee, called the scholarship program “a step in the right direction of inclusion.”
The NCIA program is a permanent offer to equity applicants in perpetuity.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to add the statement by Jamies Yagielo, who disputed some of the claims made in the article, “Cannabis equity advocates respond to MG Retailer’s ‘8 Cannabis Businesses Working for Social Equity.'”