In 2015, Nina Parks, Tsion Lencho, Amber Senter and Andrea Unsworth, all women of color, created Supernova Women, an Oakland-based non-profit organization that educates and empowers people of color to invest in the cannabis industry. And in their city the question is, “Will Oakland’s Legal Weed Industry Leave People of Color Behind?” (Unsworth is not pictured):
The mission statement on their website says:
“Supernova is an organization formed by and for Women of Color in 2015 with the goal of utilizing our diverse talents to empower our people to become self sufficient shareholders in the evolving cannabis economy. Supernova is founded with the mission to foster community empowerment through holistic education, advocacy training and skills acquisition. Supernova Women fosters a safe space for hard conversations, and will amplify the messages of our constituents at the local, state, and national level.”
One of the hardest conversations to emerge has been about the obstacles that people of color face in the booming cannabis industry. In an article by Huffington Post’s Black Voices, Lencho, who studied cannabis prohibition and policy in law school at Stanford, said that when she first scoped out the business side of things, she noticed that no one was talking about how the industry would address possible stakeholders with records of marijuana use, possession, or distribution:
“When you came to the business side of things, there was a complete dearth of conversation about inclusion, even though social and racial justice were at the forefront of the talking points around why you should legalize and why you should allow local jurisdictions to give permits,” Lencho said. “But no one was talking about providing permits for those who actually went to jail for cannabis.”
Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks echoed this fact, taking it further by pointing out that only one demographic is benefiting from weed commerce while other demographics are being shut out.
“When you look across this country, the people who are making money in respect to cannabis and recreational marijuana are white men,” Brooks told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “The people who have historically gone to jail for the same activity are predominantly African-American and Latino.”
But ever since California legalized recreational marijuana in November 2016 through Proposition 64, there is hope that the industry will be more inclusive. Since the first of this year, localities have been able to establish their own rules for approving licenses to sell recreational cannabis. And Oakland is taking full advantage.
Oakland’s newly created department of race and equity, led by Darlene Flynn, includes an equity program that sets aside half of the medical and recreational marijuana business licenses for applicants who meet the following criteria: They must live in Oakland; make less than 80 percent of the area median income; and had either been convicted of a cannabis crime or live in an area of the city with disproportionately high marijuana arrests. This program is nothing short of phenomenal.
The women of Supernova want lawmakers in San Francisco to implement a similar program. It sounds like a lot of work, since the organization has to propose this type of program to each locality in California, but it’s progress. And according to Unsworth, who is an entrepreneur in her own right, her fight in the industry is one that is uniquely black and female. “Remembering those women of color who have been left behind when their men have fallen is another aspect of the war on drugs that gets left behind or forgotten about,” Unsworth said. And with the organization’s help, those left behind will be able to have their futures repaired with an organization like hers.