Cannabis: Renee Gagnon

Cannabis offers an opportunity for diversity because the industry doesn't have entrenched players and the ability to exclude entire groups

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Renee Gagnon dives into the reasons why diversity is essential for the legal cannabis industry, and how the corporations can change Canada for the better.

To her, October 17, legalization day for recreational cannabis, is both “a celebration and a mourning.”

You can listen to Gagnon’s talk or read it below.

I had the privilege of being one of the first of the licensed crop producers [of cannabis] a few years ago and then I had the chance to go out in the world after our company went public and I was bought out. What I discovered when I got to travel into the United States was an important consideration about diversity and equity.

Diversity seems to be a scary word, but if you think about it, we believe in it for ecologies, we like to know that the environment is diverse, we understand that it is important for forests and other environments. We understand what it means when that environment becomes suddenly too much one way, or one thing becomes dominant. Economics and economic systems require diversity in them. The Canadian cannabis industry is able to lift many groups that have been excluded from past economic booms. Cannabis could have a wide impact on women in the community who’ve essentially been the back bone of a lot of products made over the past decades, and especially in the maker community, we’re going to see an incredible transition from the pre-legal and the post-legal. There’s consequences to that.

In culture we talk about diversity when we refer to the fact that we have immigration, we talk about multiculturalism, we talk about the benefits that are brought, and then sometimes we have to deal with some of the pain that comes from the growth of it.

But throughout that time, you have to understand that diversity also breeds resilience into what it touches.

It allows for change to occur, in the whole organism, the whole culture, to survive those changes. Corporations are also ecosystems that depend on diversity, and we’ve had a hard time building parity into corporations, bringing up the gender gap, we’ve had difficulties including minorities into those corporations; we have a very hard time bringing gender parity to those boards of directors who run these corporations. When those companies don’t represent the make-up of the consumers, you don’t actually have a fair chance of satisfying those consumers or meeting the market. You have to represent the market that you face, which is why diversity is just good business.

I want to talk about why cannabis offers the first opportunity in an industry that has no established entrenched players and the ability to exclude entire groups.

Few years ago, women made up 47% of the cannabis leadership in the United States. That number’s fallen to 30%. That’s not an optimistic trend.

The only way we can advance forward is through equity, in places like California it’s become legislated component in cities like Los Angeles equity is a requirement now within the distribution of licenses. Some licenses have to go to minorities and women-owned businesses to prevent what is essentially a complete whole-sale transfer from one state where people of colour pay predominantly the penalty from supplying the white community with their narcotics for so many decades. This is a way of ensuring equity. Canada’s seen no equity at that level, and there’s been approximately five of the licensed producers set-up, owned, and created by females in this country. There’s more to come, but that’s an unreasonable number considering the total number.

We need more equity. We need more equity in the supply chain, we need equity at level that we can get involved with because we are Ground Zero. We talk about the billions and trillions, but there needs to be a lot more thought put into how we distribute, how we want to do that, and it’s only in the beginning of an industry do we ever have this chance.

I want to suggest that tomorrow (October 17) is a celebration, but it’s also a mourning.

I want you to understand that there’s many people who got laid off this past week at the dispensaries across Canada. There’s families in British Columbia who don’t know what’s happening next month with their rent. There’s landlords with empty locations because the legislation wasn’t ready in the various provinces. So there’s going to be pain. But along with that is finally the injustice of being arrested for the mere possession of plant tissue going away. Suddenly we’re not going to see people losing their children, we’re not going to see families ripped apart, people not being able to pursue careers because of a criminal conviction for plant tissue. We’re going to see patients being able to gain greater access to one of the most revolutionary health changes since penicillin. If you look at the range of possible conditions that cannabis applies to we suddenly see hope for a lot of patients that have been left marooned when medication can’t help them, they’ve been forced to self-treat, they’ve been forced to go to dispensaries, to compassion clubs, and the brave souls that started those paid a heavy price early on. I want to acknowledge them in the dying days of the grey and the black, the many decades that all these people toiled and invented, created and suffered, and went through great pain.

I want to say thank you to them, I want to say thank you to you for continuing this dialogue. I ask you to think about equity, that if we’re going to proceed down this bold new path that we have a chance to address some of the historical wrongs. This doesn’t take away from anything—this is practically the first source of revenue that we can devote to the worst social ills of many generations. Thank you most of for tomorrow starting forward, helping us as a country change the planet’s view for one plant.

Renee Gagnon