Amay Tewari

Over 150 attendees from across the legal cannabis industry gathered in Evans Hall last Friday to discuss the issues facing the growing business community, according to organizers of the conference.

The student-organized Yale Business of Legal Cannabis Conference had its inaugural gathering of entrepreneurs in 2018, when 40 speakers came to New Haven to talk about legal cannabis. This year, speakers focused on the theme of “The Canna-Boom: Building Businesses and Developing Policy in Uncharted Territories.” The conference featured a keynote address by Managing Partner Michael Blue of Privateer Holdings — a private equity firm focusing on Cannabis — followed by a networking lunch, six breakout panels and a discussion of careers, investing and social equity.

“There’s a desire across the industry to improve diversity and particularly working with minority groups in underserved communities who have been overly targeted by the War on Drugs,” said attendee Richard Meiklejohn.

Meiklejohn, a MBA student at Suffolk University, attended the event with two other business students from his university who work with a social enterprise group called Interise. The group works with existing businesses from minority backgrounds and encourages business growth through what is called a “street-wise MBA program.” Meiklejohn and his colleagues came to the School of Management on Friday to help gather industry background and see how this could be useful for their clients. Meiklejohn’s colleague Sonya Pawlyshyn added that she and her team were acting as research consultants. She said that they attended to investigate what opportunities exist for social impact and her client base.

Bo Money, president of the National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance — known as NDICA — served on the diversity and social equity panel alongside Jasmin Mize of the University of the District of Columbia Law School. Money said that she anticipates legalization in Connecticut and hopes to impart knowledge from the failure in her home state of California to create equal opportunity in the legal cannabis industry. She said that it is important to advocate for the implementation of social equity programs in legalization legislation before the bill is passed because it would only become more difficult later on.

Mize said the status of social equity in legal cannabis is such that if a startup business does not succeed, the founder’s community does not see the benefit of what the entrepreneur was trying to do.

“If you’re low-income, you have a cannabis conviction and you come from a marginalized community, how are you going to get the capital [to start a successful business]?” Money said.

Recreational cannabis use has been legalized in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

 

John Besche | john.besche@yale.edu