I recently had a wonderful chat with an African-American woman named Portia Mittons, one of the owners of a dispensary called The Coughie Pot in a fairly remote corner of Eastern Oregon. Originally from Kankakee, Illinois, Portia is one of those people you can’t help but like. She has a great attitude and loves what she does, even if it’s in a tiny town in a very conservative part of the state. We wrote an article about her store a couple of years ago and she struck me then as a high-energy cannabis ambassador.
Our latest conversation was about social equity licenses for minorities and women. Apparently, Illinois will be issuing several dozen in the coming months, and I’m all for it.
As much as some of us like to think — or pretend — that the situation in the United States has vastly improved for minorities, there are still many laws and rules in place that hurt the poor and minorities in ways we rarely think about. Take education for example. In the United States, we embrace an education system based on local funding that ensures poor kids go to poor schools and rich kids to rich schools.
So anyone who can afford a home in Beverly Hills that costs $5 million can send their kids to a great public school. And 2.2% of the Beverly Hills population is Black. Single-family zoning laws around those great schools also ensure that the mostly white suburbs stay mostly white and that poor kids are blocked from the best public schools. This is just one example of a system that continually hurts poor kids and minorities.
Social equity cannabis licenses and financial assistance for those that have been systemically disenfranchised by the so-called War on Drugs are great ways to help level the playing field, and the cannabis community should embrace them.
I did well in a prior life as the owner of a large consumer software company. I like to tell my kids that success is mostly about working a bit harder than the next guy, paying attention, doing your homework, acting on your ideas, having good intuition and not being afraid to put your own money on the line. I’m proud of the company I built in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, I am also cognizant of the fact that I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, went to great public schools, had educated parents who stressed the importance of college (all five of my siblings went to college) and spent plenty of time around other kids with wealthy, successful parents who were great role models and examples of what can be achieved.
Many in the United States live in a completely different environment — one that restricts their personal and professional growth, offers them little hope of a better life and ensures that they will rarely experience the all-important life experiences that shape one’s thinking and aspirations at an early age.
Social equity licenses and the opportunities they offer are but one small way the cannabis industry can start to make things better for those low on capital, support and opportunity.
Portia is helping to lead the way in Illinois and has been instrumental in pushing the state to allow minorities get into an industry that can and should lead the way to more minority participation in the ownership class.