Curaleaf is more than a premium cannabis and national retail dispensary group. Over the past few years, Curaleaf has developed a reputation for leading social equity programs through efforts like its Corporate Social Responsibility initiative “Rooted in Good.”
Two years ago, after the launch of “Rooted in Good,” NewsOne interviewed Curaleaf’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Khadijah Tribble. Founder of a cannabis equity and policy nonprofit, Tribble explained that Curaleaf grounded its social responsibility work in three pillars: diversity equity and inclusion, social equity and environment/sustainability.
Curaleaf recently released its first impact report looking at how its equity work is unfolding. Curaleaf expressly states that through the Rooted in Good initiative, the company prioritizes “resources for social equity throughout the industry and sharing the wealth and opportunities with those disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.”
Cannabis equity is central to the work at Curaleaf
Raheem Uqdah, director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Curaleaf, spoke with NewsOne about what corporate social responsibility means at Curaleaf, the impact report and the company’s progress over the past two years.
“CSR is about aligning the resources of a company to benefit not just the company, but the populations of people that they serve, the communities that they’re working within, and the employees that work at the company, “Uqdah said. “It’s about trying to make sure that we’re doing good for all of these stakeholders. And not just doing good for just shareholders. At the end of the day, it is about trying to figure out how we bring value to everyone through our work, through our company.”
Part of this work includes capsule collections highlighting diverse brands and a dedicated supplier diversity program. Through its 420 diverse suppliers by 2025 program, Rooted in Good has partnered with Black-owned cannabis brands like Rolling Bouque, a specialty rolling paper company.
“My hope is that as we are continuing to build this out, we can onboard more diverse vendors into our supply chain and into our stores,” Uqdah explained. “And then start to think about how do we develop an e-commerce experience that allows for smaller minority-owned brands to tell their story of how they started their brand.”
Another program Curaleaf highlighted in its impact report is a second-chance hiring initiative that works with people impacted by the criminal justice system. Without direct advocacy, some legalization efforts have expressly excluded people formerly incarcerated for marijuana. Uqdah explained this has been an area of great innovation and creativity.
“We announced this standard by which we wanted to hold ourselves, 10% of new hires coming from communities that have been directly impacted by cannabis prohibition,” he said. “We found out quickly that in a number of the states that we operate in, the state would not badge people who had been previously incarcerated for cannabis possession.”
One example was legislative changes in Illinois that allow folks who have prior cannabis possession charges to work in plant-touching roles. Uqdah also noted some ways people can work in related fields that could still be a part of the broader cannabis ecosystem.
From Curaleaf’s perspective, it is important to diversify the pipeline throughout, not just with licensing and other direct roles. Cannabis businesses and distributors all need ancillary services for their businesses to thrive.
At Curaleaf, cannabis equity means increasing industry sustainability
In addition to its focus on supplier diversity and community partnerships, Curaleaf wants to build a more sustainable industry. Uqdah explained that given the highly regulated industry, the company must work smarter regarding sustainability.
“We’ve been doing a materiality assessment to understand where are the spaces where we are being asked to do something like tread waste material with kitty litter,” he said. “By asking the state to change regulation, suddenly we can reduce our carbon footprint because we can create a more circular process in our production.”
Aside from its efforts to ease or, where possible, remove barriers to entry in the cannabis industry, Uqdah said there are still structural issues that need to be addressed.
“We have a history of inequitably allocated resources in this country, and that is only exacerbated when you have a cash-intensive industry that people are looking to enter,” he said. “Until there is access to banking, traditional loans, being able to go to your local small business office and ask for help opening a cannabis business, it will be more difficult for social equity to be realized. For minority ownership to be realized.”