By Keith Stephenson, Founder and CEO of the Purple Heart Patient Center
As cannabis retailers, we are often the only lawyers in the industry in many communities. Some of us have also forged deep connections with our local customers, which means we have a unique responsibility to use our resources to ensure that the legal market is as accessible and comprehensive as possible.
As a vocal cannabis advocate and entrepreneur, I have been advocating social justice policies in my own city of Oakland since 2009. For me, equity in the regulated industry means giving people from marginalized communities affected by the war on drugs the opportunity to flourish. While the struggle for fair politics at local, state and national levels has been a long and arduous process, I believe that private local corporations can take upon themselves to address important equity gaps by proactively taking initiatives on recruitment, retailing and marketing Implement corporate social responsibility that fosters marginalized communities.
Rent locally and internationally
As a business owner, it is imperative to lead by example through inclusive recruiting. This means hiring BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and female applicants for positions that involve more than just security and HR functions. The war on drugs continues to be disproportionately aimed at people from black and Latin American communities, and they must have a prominent place at the table in retail.
At Purple Heart, BIPOC employees make up almost 80% of our workforce. We are hiring in our surrounding neighborhoods through word of mouth and accessible, cannabis-friendly recruiting platforms like Indeed. In order to keep these talented people, we also think it’s important not only to pay them a living wage, but also to offer promotions based on what the employees can learn.
If you train your people to be efficient and competent, and give them constructive opportunities to learn new skills, they are more likely to climb to the top. Ultimately, minorities can and should play visible roles in everyday retail as managers, buyers and budget tenders.
Invest in the long-term growth of your employees
Understandably, every growing business has a limited amount of resources, especially in this capital-intensive industry. But as a longtime cannabis entrepreneur, I’ve seen firsthand how investing in human capital through extensive professional training and even tuition reimbursement can bring lasting returns for my own business and my employees.
Training executives not only empowers your employees, it also boosts the workflow and reputation of your retail business. At Purple Heart, we train our employees to the point where they can ultimately make significant decisions on behalf of the business. Better still, many managers acquire the skills to one day become a cannabis entrepreneur themselves.
When it comes to a retailer’s options, they should also consider reimbursing tuition fees to enable motivated employees to become more involved in the industry and apply their newfound expertise to day-to-day business operations. In the past few years, Purple Heart has extended tuition reimbursements at Oaksterdam University, America’s first cannabis trading school. This opportunity has enabled our employees not only to gain a deeper insight into the system, but also to better serve our patients and customers.
Comprehensive training is especially important in this constantly evolving industry. Offering further training courses attracts and retains top talent and also promotes creativity, commitment and entrepreneurship internally.
Prioritize shelf space for minority brands
Retailers charging slotting fees have become increasingly common in California. Currently, brands can be asked to pay $ 500 to $ 15,000 per month for shelf space only. For smaller, minority-owned brands, these fees can be a significant barrier to entry, even if they are part of the cost of doing business.
As far as I’ve seen, roughly half of California’s retailers charge a slotting fee, and roughly less than 2% of the shelf space in the state is specially allocated to minority brands. Before Purple Heart was temporarily closed due to two break-ins last year, we put in place an internal policy to not charge minority brands slotting fees and allow them to contact us for shelf space.
After an intensive review process to ensure their products meet government regulations, we provide shelf space to these brands and let our own customers determine what space they will take up. So far, our minority-owned brands have done very well and have the potential to establish themselves as established brand leaders in this market. In many cases, retailers are the goalkeepers for brands, and they should use their influence to promote minority businesses rather than foreclosing them.
Donate to organizations that promote minorities
Running a cannabis business is expensive and demanding, and donating to charity can often be an afterthought. However, a well thought out donation of any amount can lead to effective partnerships in the community.
Before our temporary closure, we donated between $ 500 and $ 10,000 each month to local youth organizations such as Oakland Natives Give Back, the Oakland School of the Arts, and Youth UpRising. The war on drugs had a devastating impact on Oakland, and investing in the next generation of artists and executives is one of the most effective ways to revitalize this dynamic community.
For retailers unable to offer financial assistance, providing business knowledge to underrepresented entrepreneurs is another way to provide concrete access to the industry. I’ve learned that giving becomes a joy and a privilege when you have the resources to make your local community more resilient and understand the social implications of those contributions.
It is up to public and private bodies to remove obstacles
Advances in social justice are possible when private companies and policymakers come together to break down financial and social barriers to entry. As a retailer, we have the opportunity to fill this gap and even offer brands of underrepresented business owners an economic lifeline.
Ultimately, we cannot do this without the support of local and federal lawmakers. Donating to charity, investing in our people, and providing free shelf space are still extremely difficult when we are faced with prohibitively high operating costs. Retailers can be better social equity partners if we have access to general financial services and are not bogged down with exorbitant taxes.
Currently, legal retailers in California pay over 50% of taxes, including 280e costs in addition to state and local taxes. Regulators need to ease this huge burden so cannabis retailers can reinvest their profits to create more business opportunities for minority brands. Cannabis companies have openly expressed their willingness to create a fairer industry, but we can only achieve so much without our elected officials fighting by our side.
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