Professor Owusu-Bempah highlights lack of diversity in Canadian cannabis industry, calls to incorporate equity programs - Forbes Article

December 10, 2021 by Kendra Smith

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently featured in a Forbes article by Amanda Siebert titled "How Canada's (very white) cannabis industry could learn from social equity programs in the US." In the article, Professor Owusu-Bempah discussed how the disproportionate harm Black and Indigenous communities faced under prohibition contrasts sharply with his research revealing white men to be the dominant and clear benefactors of legalization. He argued that the Canadian government's legalization of cannabis production and sale under the Cannabis Act has not been as effective in remedying the historic injustices under prohibition as it could be. Pointing to equity programs built into cannabis legislation in a few states south of the border, Professor Owusu-Bempah urged Canadian lawmakers to consider adopting some of these strategies into the Canadian legislation as the Cannabis Act undergoes its 3-year review. These equity programs provide free or affordable training, expedited licensing avenues, and waived licensing fees for applicants from low-income or previously criminalized communities seeking to enter the industry of cannabis sale and production. Professor Owusu-Bempah argued that actively building these equity programs into Canadian legislation may help to remedy the inequality around trade of cannabis that continues to widen.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the U of T Mississauga campus. He frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets on topics related to his research focus: the intersection of race, policing and justice.

We have included an excerpt of this story below. Read the full article from Forbes here.

How Canada’s (Very White) Cannabis Industry Could Learn From Social Equity Programs In The U.S.

Amanda Siebert Contributor



Cannabis may be consumed by adults of all races, ages, and genders, but in Canada, those employed in the upper echelons of the nascent industry don’t reflect that diversity. According to a report published by the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation (CDPE) and the University of Toronto, the leadership of the country’s licensed cannabis producers is made up of predominantly white men.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is a sociology professor at the University of Toronto and a co-author of the paper titled, “How Diverse is Canada’s Legal Cannabis Industry?” The report aimed to take a closer look at the race and gender of individuals “with the greatest influence and financial stake” in the industry: the boards and executives of the hundreds of licensed producers growing Canada’s legal weed.

Unsurprising But Important Data

The results of the report were not surprising in a country where corporate boards and directors have already been established as largely white: 84% of industry leaders were white, 6% were South Asian, 3% were East and Southeast Asian, 2% were Indigenous, 2% were Arab, 1% was Black, and 1% was Latinx. When broken down by race and gender, 73% of executives and directors were white men, 14% were non-white men, 12% were white women, and 2% were non-white women.

“We know that corporate Canada is predominantly white and also predominantly male, so we'd have no real reason given the way our cannabis legalization framework was set up to believe that the cannabis industry would be any different,” said Owusu-Bempah on the results.

He and the team of researchers behind the report did the work not to point out the obvious, but to highlight underrepresentation precisely because Black and Indigenous people were disproportionately harmed under prohibition. “This of all industries could have provided an opportunity to make amends for that historic injustice, and, importantly, provide an avenue for opportunity for the groups that have been harmed by prohibition,” he said.

Read the full article here...