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Leading MSO teams up with Black Institute Group to tackle social equity in cannabis

The recently announced collaboration between AUDACIOUS and Black Institute Group aims to improve social equity in the cannabis space through a number of new initiatives, initially in New York State but with the potential to expand to other areas.

The Las Vegas-based multi-state operator AUDACIOUS has announced it will be teaming up with the Black Institute Group (B.I.G.) to work on a number of new initiatives related to social equity in the cannabis space.

The collaboration is focused on connecting social equity applicants with AUDACIOUS and enabling the company to engage with social equity licensees to optimise their ability to participate in the cannabis industry. The collaboration will be multi-faceted and will include outreach to municipalities, community groups, politicians, media and other groups.

B.I.G. is a Black-led company that is focused on strategies, policies, legislation and education that impact the concerns of people of colour.

The organisation is led by Bertha Lewis, an iconic civil rights leader who has worked for over 35 years as an activist and community organiser, campaigning for causes such as immigrant rights, affordable housing, living wages and policy reform. For the past 10 years, she has also been a major advocate and activist in the cannabis space with a clear focus on righting the wrongs related to people in the black community whose lives were derailed through non-violent cannabis-related convictions.

“While a growing number of licenses have been awarded to social equity applicants across the country, the next step for many of these people and groups is less clear,” Lewis said in a statement. “For instance, securing project finance while the applicant has a prior conviction is close to impossible. This is where AUDACIOUS comes in, whose people have a track record of advocacy, inclusion and operational excellence.

“We are pleased to be working with AUDACIOUS in helping to ensure that social equity groups can enter the industry on a level playing field with the competition and […] operate to the best of their abilities, not being hampered by artificial constraints they are faced with due to their background or the colour of their skin.”

As part of the collaboration, B.I.G. will advise on strategic approaches to regulatory guidelines that have been outlined by the New York State Legislature and review the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) Control Board revised regulations as they relate to the needs of AUDACIOUS. The partnership is initially focused on New York State with the potential to expand into other areas later on.

“We are very proud to be working with the Black Institute Group and its iconic leader, Bertha Lewis, on the further rollout of our social equity program in New York State,” Terry Booth, CEO of AUDACIOUS said. “Their track record in the community needs little description and we are very pleased that with their guidance, we will be able to do the right thing the right way.”

Representation in the legal cannabis space is a contentious topic, especially in the US where racial and ethnic disparity in the industry is most pronounced.

Despite 39 states decriminalising or legalising cannabis for medical or recreational use, hundreds of thousands of people are still arrested every year for possession or are still behind bars for past convictions. Data shows that the people affected are disproportionately Black.

Meanwhile, in the legal cannabis space, white men make up more than 70 percent of C-suite positions in the industry while only 7 percent are Black. In 2020, The American Civil Liberties Union found that Black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession in the US, while a 2017 survey from Marijuana Business Daily found that more than 80 percent of cannabis businesses were white-owned.

AUDACIOUS isn’t the only MSO working to tackle social equity in the cannabis industry. In Boston, the multi-state cannabis operator Parallel announced a partnership this week with Black CannaBusiness Magazine to develop a six-week education series aimed at CEOs of colour working in the cannabis industry.

The intensive course aims to provide tools to help minority-owned cannabis businesses to increase their knowledge and reach their full potential.

“The Black CannaBusiness Intensive Program is an immersive experience that empowers minority cannabis businesses owners to thrive in the cannabis industry with best in class leadership training and a unique “next level “business development curriculum,” says Kristi Price, founder of Black CannaBusiness.

“It’s imperative that black business leaders continue to build upon and increase their knowledge in the cannabis industry,” James Jackson; Senior Director of Social Equity at Parallel said. “Massachusetts is one of the first in the nation to adopt an equity mandate – they have made the commitment, and have a vision for equity for its future.”

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