In a country as diverse as Canada, the cannabis industry is still heavily lacking. Even in the province of Ontario, where some major cannabis companies have launched and now become big players in the international market. However, reports on how diverse the cannabis space is in Canada were quite disheartening.
A new report by the Center on Drug Policy Evaluation and the University of Toronto notes that 84% of executives and board members within 200 Canadian licensed cannabis producers were white. The report showed that only a tiny 1% of executives and board members were Black.
Take Omar Ali’s story as an example; he recently spoke with The Toronto Star via a phone interview from his SESS Holdings Inc. office. Ali is co-owner of the company, CEO, and expert grower. Would it surprise you that business opportunities for Ali were scarce solely because of his name?
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Unfortunately, in a white-dominated industry, situations like these are not uncommon, and for Ali, he thought changing his name might give him more opportunity. According to The Star, Ali had tried time and again to apply for licenses, municipal authorizations, and accessing funds for his company, but nothing seemed to turn in his favor until he started using his wife’s last name, Monpetit.
“I literally had to change my name just to get into this business,” he told the outlet, adding that this is the unfortunate “reality of the cards that we were dealt.”
Ali had grown up in the tough and high-crime area of Jane Street, where individuals would often get caught up in the illicit market. Noticing this, Ali wanted to take a step back after witnessing the many neighborhood possession arrests and even watching his cousin get deported back to Guyana on drug trafficking offenses.
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University of Toronto professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was the author of the report noted above regarding the Canadian industry’s lack of diversity. He says this issue is becoming a huge concern as the same groups who aren’t getting equal opportunity are the same individuals who were targeted by law enforcement and unjustly impacted by marijuana laws.
He finds it “offensive that Black and Indigenous people are so under-represented in our legal cannabis industry,” especially since these groups were the ones “prosecuted by the courts for offenses under drug prohibition,” Owusu-Bempah told The Toronto Star.
To solve that issue, Owusu-Bempah urges federal and provincial agencies to help support minority communities through licensing initiatives and programs that would finally give them the upper hand.