As recreational cannabis sales begin in Michigan, businesses face challenges of supply, new and restrictive local ordinances and accessing capital. But they’ll also have to navigate culture issues that come with legitimacy, and workers are starting to share stories of unfair treatment.
Jess Jackson, Detour Detroit Emerging Voices fellow, will host the Blazing Silence summit this Saturday to tackle the pressing issue of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, with a focus on the nascent cannabis industry. (Detour is a media sponsor of the event.)
Jackson is a writer, advocate and communications specialist. She launched the social media company Loud.Social, with a focus on marijuana clients, after learning about the cannabis space and reporting on its equity issues.
“I knew that I was interested in the industry because I believe it will build equity in communities that have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs,” Jackson said.
She started researching and reaching out to see where she might fit within the industry, including attending the Women of Cannabis conference.
Jackson soon began hearing stories “of not only racism and bias within the industry, but a lot of stories of women who have been facing harassment, and honestly, assault, quid pro quo… ‘You give me a blow job and I’ll give you a job’ was common.”
“I’ve always been a community-driven advocate,” she continued. “Every time I talk about Blazing Silence, I hear more and more stories that are not exclusive to the cannabis industry. That is everywhere… That is why this conversation needs to exist.”
Jackson said she’s heard stories from people working within the black market as well as from people at licensed dispensaries.
On Saturday, she’s bringing together legal experts, founders in the cannabis space and groups that combat harassment and discrimination on the ground for a panel discussion. It will provide resources for victims and help employees and employers understand their rights and responsibilities under state and federal law — whether or not they’re involved in pot.
“People don’t know what they can report and how to report,” Jackson said. “That’s really what the panel is about. What are the laws, what are your rights?”
There’s a wide-ranging list of speakers on the docket: Tracy Evans, founder of It’s Not Right and the complainant in the recent Founders Brewing discrimination case; Lolita Davis, program analyst for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Brittni Kellom, trauma practitioner and founder of Just Speak Inc.; and Anthony Lewis, director of business and community affairs for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. The panel will be moderated by Anqunette “Q” Sarfoh, former Fox 2 anchor turned medicinal marijuana proponent and owner of Botanic, a Corktown dispensary.
“The beauty of recreational marijuana is that we get to set the standard for what this looks like and what the standards are, so that people are treated fairly in the workplace. We can start conversations and create change within this industry from the very beginning,” Jackson added. “It’s a historic moment. It’s an exciting moment, but it’s also a moment to hold ourselves accountable for what a really prosperous, sustainable and equitable future looks like.”
The Blazing Silence event is free, and will feature tunes from DJ groovy.sol. There will be drinks from SIPS Company and Stroh Brewing Co., as well as hors d’oeuvres from cannabis catering company LuckyPistil, founded by Enid Parham aka Chef Sunflower.
Blazing Silence kicks off at 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Complex, 3800 Puritan St. RSVP and find out more here.