A Pathway to Healing through Cannabis Health Equity
Throughout the cannabis industry "social equity" has become a rallying cry to reconcile the direct and disproportionate impact of cannabis criminalization on the wellbeing of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people. This much is clear. But what, exactly, does social equity mean? For the past several years, and as more and more states legalize commercialization, expungements and adjunct social equity programming have dominated efforts that have fallen quite short of delivering opportunity and reconciliation to the communities they aim to serve. Simply put, “social equity" is poorly and inconsistently defined throughout the cannabis industry, failing to consider the totality of what creates and ensures equity across a diverse population.
In order to "get equity right," we must develop a comprehensive and shared understanding of what exactly equity is, what it must holistically do, and what roles we all must play to achieve it.
Equity is perhaps best explained through its intersection with ecology, or the state of the relationship between people and the construction of our social ecosystems.
Equity as a spectrum ranges from inequity to total equity, and represents the degree of certainty (or assuredness) that all people have access to full health and total wellbeing. But when our health—good or poor—is a malleable state of being that is continually influenced by the social ecosystems within which we all live, our wellbeing is dependent on the resiliency and sustainability of healthy ecosystems.
Healthy ecosystems require that we focus intention and investment into optimizing and maintaining the four cornerstones of sustainability—economic, environmental, human, and social sustainability. Why? Because total wellbeing within any society can only be achieved through attaining total sustainability within the social ecosystem that houses it. Like a four-legged stool missing one leg, if a society is unstable in any of these four areas, the whole is unstable too. Only through total sustainability can a social ecosystem create and sustain healthy people, healthy communities, and a healthy society - total wellbeing.
Total equity is better known as health equity, and it should achieve full health and total wellbeing for all people.
Another helpful way to describe health equity is as the sum of 4 pillars:
Economic Equity: The assuredness of 1) economic reciprocity and 2) fair access to opportunities and services that a) secure and grow economic resources such as income, savings, assets, and capital, and b) bring personal and collective agency over the flow of economic resources through a household or community.
Environmental Equity: The assuredness of access to and maintenance of 1) clean air, water, land, soil, and food 2) clean, natural, and safe outdoor spaces, 3) clean and safe indoor spaces, and 4) clean, safe, and consistent housing options.
Human Equity: The assuredness of access to experiences, opportunities, and resources that optimize 1) an individual’s knowledge, skills, ability, capability, adaptability, introspection, empathy, enlightenment, self-regard, and self-actualization, and 2) their physical, mental, and spiritual fitness.
Social Equity: The assuredness of fairness in policy, regulation, and in the distribution of social resources and services to ensure that policy, social constructs, and institutional practices 1) assure economic, environmental, and human equity, 2) demonstrate cultural respect and preservation, and 3) facilitate the social belonging, cooperation, cohesion, trust, participation, protection, and productivity of all people.
Health equity depends on maximizing each pillar across all demographics of all people within a society, and the CHEM Pillars of Health Equity™ creates for us a rubric through which our progress towards prosperity can be assessed, tended, monitored, measured, scaled, and assured.
Cannabis Health Equity
Through decades-long selective enforcement of prohibition laws, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other culturally marginalized communities have been denied health equity—the assuredness of access to full health and wellbeing. Because lawmakers crafted the comprehensive cannabis policies that harmed these communities, it is incumbent on them to comprehensively reform cannabis laws to directly repair and heal those same communities. However, policy makers aren’t solely responsible. It is imperative that we all participate in and support equitable cannabis regulatory frameworks.
Notwithstanding human folly, cannabis makes this easy. There is an opportunity to leverage cannabis policy, the cannabis economy, and the evidence-backed agricultural, industrial, medical, and nutritional uses of cannabis to address many of the medical and socio-ecological problems plaguing our impacted communities as a direct result of their systemic divestment of access to wellbeing. This is Cannabis Health Equity.
Health equity won't be achieved if the policies, regulations, and practices that govern the cannabis industry aren't health equity-centered. And ironically, the greatest threat is the ongoing failure of our legislators, regulators, and industry operators to recognize that the policies, rules, and practices they craft—not the programs they create—are the real social equity vehicles to reach the health equity as a destination.
We invite you to join our movement as we advocate for real cannabis education and the demonstration of the potential of cannabis to heal our economies, our environments, and ourselves.
Dr. Rachel Knox, MD, MBA
Co-founder and President, Cannabis Health Equity Movement™