For cannabis consumers eager to take an ethical stance, there’s a well-trodden path to follow in the rise of conscious consumerism in the retail industry and in food and agriculture. Indeed, a 2014 Nielsen poll of some 60,000 people found that 55% of online shoppers would pay more for products they believed had a positive social or environmental impact.
The Hood Incubator’s Ifedigbo acknowledged that investing company funds or staffers’ time in equity programs might be costly in the short-term, but that it reflects the sort of long-term vision shoppers like to see: “Consumers want to support businesses that they feel have a social mission, that are doing more than just making money, or just pumping out weed.”
And of course, consumers can communicate their desire for this by asking what cannabis companies are doing to address the inequities inherent to their business: Are they sponsoring job fairs? Expungement clinics? Making efforts to hire from communities affected by racist policing? However awkward that may seem to broach at a dispensary, they’re not unreasonable questions to ask, just as it wouldn’t be outlandish to ask a grocer for free-range eggs, or fair-trade coffee.
Packer hopes the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation will make that sort of shopping easier with a program requiring licensed operators to share their corporate social responsibility plans for her department to review, score, and make public. Picture a luxury dispensary, complete with a Whole Foods-type scoring system for cannabis that grades companies on their commitment to communities.
Cage-Free Cannabis has already developed an emblem that would indicate some level of social commitment from cannabis companies. It was inspired by philanthropic and politically minded companies like Newman’s Own and Patagonia (the outdoor gear-maker has led an alliance of companies that donates 1% of sales for environmental restoration for decades, a program that could arguably be called ecological reparations).
Of course, conscious consumerism in itself is no replacement for political action. And it’s worth remembering that the War on Drugs continues in the US—cannabis is still criminalized in many states, and the Trump administration seems newly focused on reinvigorating the anti-marijuana propaganda.
“Having the industry own this problem, it could in some ways foster an attitude on the part of consumers that someone else is already taking care of that problem or that concern,” said Southerland, of NYU’s Center for Race, Inequality, and the Law. “Participating in the political process is really probably the most important thing that the everyday consumer can do to try to change that dynamic.”