Is the marijuana industry forgetting about the disabled?
Wednesday, November 01, 2017
If the marijuana industry wants to be taken seriously with hopes of recognition from the federal government, it needs to demonstrate greater compliance to federal standards.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the disabled are a protected disadvantaged category of diversity. Yet the disabled are being left out of the cannabis industry — both as consumers and as business employees, owners and industry partners.
There are now eight states that have legal adult use of recreational marijuana and 29 states that allow for legal medicinal use. Whether or not one is supportive of this, the changing landscape of marijuana use will continue to impact individuals.
For those who depend on marijuana to treat health concerns — many of whom have conditions that qualify as disabilities — the growth of dispensaries provides additional products to better manage treatment. The economic opportunities for employment and businesses are also certainly growing.
But there are indications that the rapidly-evolving cannabis/marijuana industry has limited interest in including the diversity category of disabled in economic movement, and there is misinformation within the marijuana industry that may be harming the disabled patient population.
Leafly, a trade publication for marijuana, recently published an article on dispensaries and disability access. While the article may have had good intentions, the information may be more harmful than helpful.
"Because cannabis is still federally restricted under the Controlled Substances Act, there is no federally-mandated law that states dispensaries are required to adhere to the Americans With Disabilities Act," according the Leafly. "This means medical marijuana patients are not only at risk of losing their job and/or government assistance benefits due to state-legal cannabis use, the dispensaries they visit are also not required to make accommodations for them."
Further, there seems to be a lack of discussion to include representatives of the disabled community or professionals with experience in ADA issues or other social and legal issues facing the disabled in positions related to the administration of recreational or medicinal marijuana programs. This will seriously limit access as well as opportunities for those with disabilities.
The marijuana industry is capitalizing on the national interest in minority issues and economic opportunities. With this in mind, the marijuana ballot initiative put forward to the citizens of Massachusetts strongly emphasized social justice as a reason to support legal recreational marijuana.
The emphasis on social justice has evolved into legal mandates to increase economic opportunities for diverse populations within the Massachusetts marijuana industry. However, the use of language around diversity is not in line with what most other states in the nation and the federal government consider diversity.
The groups included in the economic opportunities of the marijuana industry are minorities, women and veterans, but not the disabled.
The state of Massachusetts required 30 positions be filled for the oversight and administration of its recreational marijuana program. These candidates came from the marijuana industry, minority groups, government and public health. Five of these positions are the paid Cannabis Control Commission, and the remaining 25 are unpaid advisory people.
There is no representation to date of groups with professional expertise in disabilities. Given the current misinformation around disabled and the ADA, this can have serious long- and short-term consequences. (ADA)
Pennsylvania seems to have done it correctly. The state has not yet approved recreational marijuana, but it had a broad approach to diversity initiatives in its newly-adopted medical marijuana program. Pennsylvania embraced inclusion of all groups and categories of diversity by not specifying groups but just generalizing diversity. The language is not exclusionary, which opens up all initiatives and preferential treatment to all categories of diversity, including the disabled.
The exclusion of the disabled related to diversity in the marijuana industry is not unique to one state, or even state governments in general. A recent report by New Frontier Data, a publication specific to diversity within the industry is titled , "Diversity in Cannabis Report: Perspectives on Gender, Race and Inclusion in Legal Cannabis."
While this report no doubt provides valuable information, the omission of a federally recognized category of diversity is glaring. There are no references to the disabled in materials related to this forthcoming publication. Advocating for diversity but excluding entire categories of diversity is harmful to everyone.
Ignoring the disabled is not good business. Ignoring an entire category of diversity is certainly not socially responsible.
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