A National Conference on Diversity in the Cannabis Industry Is Happening in Portland This Week

Billed as “the Conference That Connects,” the day-long convention is meant to function as a conduit for “connecting entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds in different fields [within] the cannabis industry."

Portland's cannabis industry is getting more diverse, but there's still a lot of work to be done. So it makes sense that we'd play host to an event bringing together a lineup of activists, lawyers, musicians, vendors and entrepreneurs, all with a vested interests in seeing greater representation and inclusion in the legal cannabis industry.

This week marks the inaugural National Cannabis Diversity Awareness Convention at the Redd in Southeast Portland. Billed as "the Conference That Connects," the day-long convention is meant to function as a conduit for "connecting entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds in different fields [within] the cannabis industry," says Mss Oregon, the event's lead organizer.

Speakers include representatives from Mayor Ted Wheeler's office, Black Lives Matter activist and Poetic Justice founder John Slaughter, record expungement expert Michael Zhang and local musicians F.I.Y.A. and E.D. Mondaine.

Oregon—a brand consultant with expertise in organizational diversity and inclusion efforts—sees the conference as an opportunity to address and educate people on the challenges facing would-be cannabis entrepreneurs from marginalized communities.

But the pursuit of "diversity" can be a slippery slope—when used as a catchall term, the word, often unwittingly, becomes a tool of erasure. Oregon is mindful of the intersectionality of the struggle for social equity in cannabis and the need for simultaneous support for groups who face similar barriers due to age, gender, sexual orientation and differing abilities.

"The convention is about access to resources and tools to help a business grow," she says, "access to networking for business growth, and access to funding, capital and education, to help displaced community members or business owners grow into the cannabis industry."

Jess Columbo, head of canna-business-friendly digital services and marketing agency Tiller, is one of over a dozen brands sponsoring the NCDAC. She applauds Mss Oregon's efforts to engage the conversation and call for tangible action on racial and other identity-based diversity.

"I face a lot of challenges as a female business owner, but they pale in comparison to the historic and systematic hardship some of my colleagues and clients are up against," she says. "At Tiller, we're working to invest in the things we care about, not just talk about them on Instagram."

For Stephanie Barnhart, organizer of Portland's annual science-focused cannabis event Cultivation Classic, supporting the NCDAC was a "no brainer."

"In my personal view," she says, "it's important for Cultivation Classic to support the effort of the NCDAC team, because I can't be over here planning an event with the code of conduct that ours has, or the commitment to speaker representation that ours has, but then ignore a major effort like that of Mss Oregon's to push the conversation about racial equity."

SEE IT: The National Cannabis Diversity Awareness Conference is at the Redd, 831 SE Salmon St., on Friday, March 8. 11 am-5 pm. $10-$85. Get tickets here.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.