When it comes to her assessment of the cannabis industry in general, Mary Pryor pulls no punches.
“I think the industry plays progressive, and it’s not,” she says. “So I just want to make sure there’s a distinction there. It’s easy to play progressive.”
But while the industry itself may continue to be overwhelmingly white and male, the customer base for the product itself tends to be more diverse. And that’s where Cannaclusive comes in.
Founded by Pryor, Tonya Rapley-Flash and Charlese Jones in 2017, Cannaclusive, a consulting agency and collective focused on inclusive marketing and business advocacy in the cannabis industry, has created the InclusiveBase, a database of cannabis businesses owned by people of color, and the Accountability List to provide conscious cannabis consumers with the information they need to ensure they are buying from minority-owned companies or companies that prioritize social equity.
“I think consumers really do have power to decide who and what they’re going to buy from, if they so choose,” Pryor says. “But you need to let people understand that while we’re in this society, capitalistic as it is, there is an opportunity to purchase from entities that are doing (the right thing).”
Pryor grew up with a “very Detroit upbringing” and went to the University of Michigan (“Not Michigan State, big difference” she emphasizes with a laugh). After college she worked in several industries, ending up in advertising. But a health crisis that resulted in a Crohn’s disease diagnosis, as well as her mother’s multiple sclerosis, led her to cannabis to treat her condition and to help her mother during her final weeks in hospice care.
Pryor and her co-founders started Cannaclusive after attending industry events where they found themselves among the only Black women at otherwise well-attended events. She remembers one in particular where the people were “very rude and very much like ‘how did you get in? how did you know about this event?’”
“So when we realized the industry was looking way less inclusive than we even knew, we wanted to do something about it,” she says, noting that throughout history cannabis has put a target on the backs of people of color for nearly 100 years, even today in some states as the industry flourishes in others.
Pryor also does consulting work within the industry, including a social equity board position with The Parent Company, the California-based conglomerate that is backed by Jay-Z, the company’s chief visionary officer. This year, Cannaclusive also plans a “refresh,” with additional projects and partnerships and expansions of both the InclusiveBase and the Accountability List.
And though she comes from a medical marijuana background, Pryor is quick to note that “use is use” and though she admits it sounds like “old school advertising rhetoric B.S.,” there is a real opportunity for brands to connect over social equity.
“It does matter in terms of sales and values,” she says. “It does matter in terms of brand affinity, the idea of wanting to belong or the feeling that this brand belongs to me and I belong to this brand.”