With a focus on licensing equity, he develops educational resources for industry stakeholders and heads an accountability task force to support members’ equity program goals.
Tahir currently serves as the Director of Social Equity and Inclusion for the Marijuana Policy Project. Prior to joining the USCC, he was the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Manager at the National Cannabis Industry Association.
Before he pursued his passion for supporting the cannabis community, he worked as a financial advisor and served on the diversity council of Morgan Stanley.
In this Q&A, we ask Tahir about what social equity and justice in the cannabis industry mean, the mission of the US Cannabis Council, licensing equity, and the activities he has done to achieve social equity.
Scroll down to read the full interview.
Ganjly: What is your professional background and how did you come to be an advocate in the cannabis industry?
Tahir Johnson: Before cannabis, I spent most of my professional career in finance. I was introduced to the medical cannabis industry back in 2018 when my father was diagnosed with a musculoskeletal disease. As I learned more about barriers within the industry, such as access to capital—especially for people of color— I decided to dedicate my career to helping to build an equitable and inclusive industry. My advocacy journey began when I was a volunteer for the Minority Cannabis Business Association’s lobby day, which led to a National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) job. At the NCIA, I created the organization’s DEI programs before departing to join the U.S Cannabis Council (USCC) and Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in April.
Ganjly’s main mission is for social equity, justice, reform and inclusion in the cannabis space. For our readers, can you expound further on USCC’s mission of achieving social justice for those affected by cannabis prohibition? What does it mean?
For USCC achieving social justice for those affected by cannabis prohibition means using the organization’s platform and members to support policy positions that foster an equitable industry at both the state and federal levels. Access to education, criminal justice reform and economic opportunity for communities of color are critical pieces to USCC’ss mission.
What is licensing equity?
The key to licensing equity is developing a system that allows for inclusivity. This year, the cannabis industry is projected to add $92 billion to the U.S. economy, but Black entrepreneurs make up less than 4% of the industry. If you compare that against the statistic that Black Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than White Americans, it’s clear that those impacted most by the failed War on Drugs are cut out of the wealth. To combat this, many markets are implementing policies that remove barriers like real estate requirements and creating funds for small businesses as part of their social equity plans.
What actions and activities are you currently doing to achieve cannabis social equity?
Since joining the USCC in April, I’ve had the opportunity to plan our national programs and initiatives around social equity and inclusion—I’m excited to announce them soon. I’ve been interested in finding ways to create access to opportunity, and I believe we’re uniquely positioned as an organization to achieve this.
I’ve also had the chance to work together with our Government Relations team to ensure our values of equity and inclusion are at the core of our policy work. Sharing information to help those who are hopeful of getting into the industry is also important to me.
In my spare time, I host a podcast called the Cannabis Diversity Report, where I have minority leaders from different sectors of the industry share their experiences and blueprint to success.
What do you hope to see 5 years from now in terms of reform?
Five years from now, I am hopeful cannabis will be descheduled, and no one will continue to be arrested or serve time due to the failed War on Drugs. We’ve also just begun to scratch the surface of the potential medical benefits of cannabis, so I hope that we can have greater research. As cannabis legalization continues state by state, I believe that social equity will remain a priority in new markets. Although no perfect system exists today, we will continue to see innovation and establish best practices to achieve social equity and justice.
What advice can you give to someone that wants to start a cannabis business like a dispensary and isn’t given priority because they’re a minority?
Even outside of starting a plant-touching cannabis business, there are many opportunities to participate in the industry. Ancillary businesses can be a great way to get started since there may be lesser financial or regulatory burdens. Although more challenging, it might still be beneficial to pursue a cannabis business license, and states with open markets might present more attainable opportunities.
Where can people know more about the US Cannabis Council and the Marijuana Project?
To learn more about the US Cannabis Council, please visit our website uscannabiscouncil.org and follow @uscannabiscncl on Twitter. You can also check out the Marijuana Policy Project at mpp.org and follow @MarijuanaPolicy on Twitter and @marijuanapolicyproject on Instagram.
Thank you, Tahir, for answering our questions! Learn more at USCannabisCouncil.org.