As the cannabis industry develops, it’s hard not to make comparisons to other industries that had gone legit after years in the shadows. Among the first that comes to mind is wine.
Given the fact that the wine industry predates recreational cannabis by decades, it seems that it should come as no surprise that there’s a level of racism present within the industry, just as there are throughout other industries. Unfortunately, much of the racism that existed during the inception of the wine industry persists today.
Naturally, this leads many people to wonder about the ways in which cannabis is any different from the wine industry in that regard. Even though the cannabis industry is still young, all indications show that the cannabis industry will provide more opportunities to People of Color than wine has. Here’s how cannabis is different from recreational cannabis from a social equity perspective.
Barrier of entry is higher
The high barrier of entry into the wine world is one of the biggest reasons for the lack of diversity within the industry. The process of earning the certification necessary for becoming a wine sommelier can cost hundreds of dollars, which inherently excludes people without that kind of disposable income — which happens to be People of Color in most situations. In the cannabis industry, being a budtender or managing a dispensary doesn’t require as much training.
According to the Deputy Director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, John Hudak, the ability of cannabis businesses to stay true to its beginnings will be essential in helping to ensure that the industry remains diverse. “Higher end wines tend to be disproportionately white compared to other parts of the economy,” he explains. “Because cannabis, the consumer base is inherently more diverse than wine, it benefits it to stay to its roots.”
As far as staying true to itself goes, a big part of that means not turning every budtender who works in a dispensary into a sommelier, as some businesses are likely tempted to.
Recreational cannabis businesses are actively seeking a diverse workforce
Another difference between recreational cannabis and the wine industry when it comes to social equity is the fact that the cannabis industry is actively recruiting talent from diverse backgrounds. “Looking out at who’s going to make a good budtender, you think of younger individuals rather than older individuals,” says Hudak.
“While usage rates between whites and nonwhites are the same, when you go into dispensaries, especially in California and Nevada, you can see diversity among the workforce. When you think about higher end wines, you think about higher end individuals,” explains Hudak, adding that, “When you’re thinking about the wine consumer base, higher end wines tend to be disproportionately white compared to other parts of the economy.”
The effort that recreational cannabis businesses place on diversity is also exemplified by the fact that estimates currently place the level of minority recreational cannabis business owners at 23%, which is a stark contrast to the wine industry.
Less than 1% of wineries are black-owned
Even though wineries have rapidly grown in popularity ever since the end of prohibition, there are still relatively few minority-owned wineries to show for it. A recent study unveiled the fact that Black-owned wineries account for less than 1% of all wineries in the country. On the other hand, another recently conducted survey found that minority-owned businesses account for 19% of all respondents. While minority ownership numbers aren’t overwhelmingly high, they are more promising than what the wine industry can offer.
As far as what the recreational cannabis industry can do to ensure the continued growth of minority businesses, Hudak says nothing is going to make or keep the cannabis industry diverse. “It has to have a conscious conversation with itself to make sure it’s expanded then maintained once it’s achieved.”
Whether or not the cannabis industry is capable of reaching and maintaining heightened diversity levels will be one of the most intriguing stories to watch for within the space.