The (lack of) diversity of Canada's cannabis industry: report by Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah featured on CBC News and CBC Radio One

October 18, 2020 by Sarah Tran

A recent report by Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Nazlee Maghsoudi of the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation about the diversity of Canada's cannabis industry leaders was featured on a CBC News article by Joyita Sengupta and a CBC Radio One interview. In these appearances, Professor Owusu-Bempah and Nazlee Maghsoudi cite the findings of their policy brief to emphasize the severe underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous people and women overall in the executive teams of Canada's cannabis industry.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

We've included an excerpt from the CBC News article below. Read the full article here, and listen to the CBC Radio One interview with Nazlee Maghsoudi here.

Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs struggle for traction in Canada's cannabis industry
By Joyita Sengupta
Sat., Oct. 17, 2020


policy brief released Oct. 14 by the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation and the University of Toronto looked at c-suite level executives, parent companies and licensed producers in Canada. The research reveals that two years after legalization, 84 per cent of cannabis industry leaders are white and 86 per cent are men.

The report found that only 2 per cent of industry leaders are Indigenous, and just 1 per cent are Black.

Lead author Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, says the lack of Black and Indigenous leadership in the industry goes beyond just an issue of representation or diversity.

"Black and Indigenous people that we found to be underrepresented in leadership in cannabis were the two groups that were most targeted by prohibition. So they were the groups that were most criminalized, for example, for minor possession," said Owusu-Bempah.

In order to qualify for a retail or cultivation licence, applicants must clear a criminal background check, and this eliminates potential cannabis industry entrepreneurs who have a record for possession.

"And when we look at other jurisdictions, for example, south of the border, there have been purposeful attempts to ensure that those groups are included," said Owusu-Bempah.

Some places like San Francisco and Oakland have created social equity programs for individuals affected by the criminalization of cannabis, not only clearing their records but providing pathways to starting their own legal businesses.

"That simply has not happened here in Canada," Owusu-Bempah said.