The launch of Eaze’s Social Equity Partners program wasn’t simple. That was the point.
As a long-time labor and economic justice organizer, I know how complex it is for companies to make fundamental changes to how they do business, even when there’s a strong desire to do so. That’s because having the will doesn’t always mean knowing the way. Right now, the cannabis industry — like most American businesses and institutions — is at a crossroads between acknowledging systemic racism, wanting to change, and figuring out how to do it.
Eaze’s launch of our Social Equity Partners program is one example of how a large cannabis company can take the journey from will to way. Founded as a technology platform connecting dispensaries and consumers with on-demand delivery, in earlier years Eaze’s philanthropy focused on employee volunteerism and donations. In 2018, company leadership made an important shift: Eaze launched a formal Social Impact program and brought on staff including myself, Jennifer Lujan, Nicole Redler, and Ishaq Ali to make sure company efforts reflected community needs.
A lot of our early work was listening. Through many 2018 meetings with social equity and BIPOC founders, it was clear that these entrepreneurs were already — in the first year of California’s rec market — being left behind. Many legacy Prop 215 businesses struggled with MAUCRSA, and entrepreneurs wanting to launch businesses couldn’t access capital. While California’s bifurcated licensing system played a role, it was clear that economic exclusion — not a lack of great ideas, great product, or hardworking founders — was a main reason these companies could not grow.
What is economic exclusion? It’s the intentional blocking of BIPOC people from tools to build wealth: capital investment, financial services, and access to networks with money. One (of many many many) historic and well-documented examples is mortgage discrimination, resulting in the exclusion of Black Americans from home-ownership.
Based on community feedback, it was clear that if Eaze truly wanted to effect lasting change, we had to go beyond existing industry and government models. We needed a formalized program that leveraged the size of Eaze’s platform to ensure BIPOC businesses not only got into our supply chain, but also had the resources to succeed over time. Sustainability was as important as access.
Throughout 2019 we worked with community groups and licensed Social Equity partners PadreMu, SF Roots, KGB Reserve, and Cloud9 to develop and stress-test a program to support BIPOC businesses. Significant internal debates, a lot of trial and error, and very candid feedback from our partners were all in the mix. The conversations and processes weren’t always easy — and that was the point. By definition, a systemic problem has lots of parts, and turnkey solutions don’t exist. But the outcomes are incredibly rewarding: The launches of Eaze’s Momentum business accelerator program in September 2019 and our Bay Area equity menu in October 2019.
And now, in a first move for the cannabis industry, we’re formally launching our Social Equity Partners program alongside a massive expansion of equity brands into LA’s market.
Eaze’s multi-point Social Equity Partners program provides brands with wrap around financial and operational support, by making them eligible for benefits that include:
- Preferred financing and payment structuring
- Discounted access to Eaze Partner Portal data
- Incorporation into the Eaze supply chain
- Marketing and public relations support
The program’s goal is to help these brands scale and succeed, on Eaze and beyond. Brands in the program must either hold a social equity license or be actively engaged in the application process for an equity license in a city or county.
We launched in October with SF Roots, KGB Reserve, and Cloud9 and today four more equity brands join Eaze’s menu: James Henry SF, Dreamt, Blaqstar Farms, and Oakland Extracts.
Customers are responding with huge enthusiasm: To date, they’ve purchased nearly $1 million in social equity products. Importantly, these companies’ sales have increased by 300-700%. Now with new brands and expansion into LA’s massive consumer market, there’s more success to come.
The brands, in turn, have reinvested back into their communities, demonstrating a core programmatic goal: Helping Black and POC communities recover from the War on Drugs and systematic oppression.
As a market leader, Eaze understands that being in the legal cannabis industry obligates us to be a part of the solution. But by no means is the problem fixed. Every cannabis business faces many months, if not years, to get a cannabis license, raise capital, and jump through regulatory hoops. Add to this the unique and painful biases BIPOC entrepreneurs face, and the barriers can seem insurmountable.
But they’re not. At Eaze, we’ve taken the first steps. There was no secret sauce or special trick to how we accomplished this: it required intention, time, resources, and listening. We hope our journey from a will to a way helps inspire more systemic change across this vibrant and evolving legal industry.
–Darius Kemp, Head of Equity and Change at Eaze