Four Essential Ways Cannabis Retailers Can Be At The Forefront Of Social Equity

By Keith Stephenson, Founder & CEO of Purple Heart Patient Center

As cannabis retailers, we often serve as the only advocates for the industry in many communities. Several of us have also forged deep connections with our local customers, which means we have a unique responsibility to leverage our resources to ensure that the legal market is as accessible and inclusive as possible.

As a vocal cannabis advocate and entrepreneur, I have been championing social equity policies in my own city of Oakland since 2009. To me, equity in the regulated industry means giving individuals who come from marginalized communities impacted by the War on Drugs an opportunity to flourish. While the fight for equitable policies at the local, state and national level has been a long and arduous process, I believe private local businesses can take it upon themselves to bridge key equity gaps by proactively implementing hiring, retail and corporate social responsibility initiatives that uplift marginalized communities.

Hire locally and internationally

As a business owner, it’s imperative to lead by example through inclusive recruiting. This means hiring BIPOC, LGBTQIA and female applicants for positions outside of just security and human resources roles. The War on Drugs continues to disproportionately target individuals from Black and Latino communities, and they must have a prominent seat at the table in the retail space.

At Purple Heart, BIPOC employees make up nearly 80% of our staff. We hire from our surrounding neighborhoods through word of mouth and accessible, cannabis-friendly recruiting platforms like Indeed. To retain these talented individuals, we also believe it is important to not only pay them a living wage but also offer promotions based on what employees can learn.

When you train your staff with efficiency and proficiency in mind and provide them with constructive opportunities to learn new skills, they are more likely to rise to the top. Ultimately, minorities can, and should, have visible roles in day-to-day retail operations as managers, buyers and budtenders.

Invest in your employees’ long-term growth

Understandably, every growing business has a finite 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 job training and even tuition reimbursement generates lasting returns for my own business and employees.

Training up staff to positions of management not only empowers your employees but also benefits the workflow and reputation of your retail business. At Purple Heart, we train our staff to a point where they can eventually make authoritative decisions on behalf of the store. Better yet, many managers acquire the skills to become cannabis entrepreneurs themselves one day.

If it’s within the means of a retailer, they should also consider offering tuition reimbursement to provide motivated employees with opportunities to become more involved in the industry and apply their newfound expertise to everyday business operations. Over the past few years, Purple Heart has extended staff tuition reimbursements at Oaksterdam University, America’s first cannabis trade school. This opportunity has allowed our employees to not only gain deeper insights into the plant but also better serve our patients and customers.

Comprehensive training is critical, especially in this ever-evolving industry. Offering continued training attracts and retains top talent and also fosters creativity, drive and entrepreneurship internally.

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