Canadian Cannabis Biz: Hurdles for Black & Indigenous Firms

A new report shows that 84% of Canada’s cannabis industry leaders are white, while black entrepreneurs face systemic barriers in trying to enter the industry.


Siblings Ashley and Michael Athill established HRVSTR, a new Black-owned craft cannabis cultivator, and have set up their cultivation facility since May 2019. However, they couldn’t cultivate or market any of their products until now.

Why Is HRVSTR Struggling to Succeed? 

The Athills say the high start-up cost is why they haven’t met another Black-owned cannabis cultivator in Canada. Although they managed to self-fund their company, the siblings acknowledged that income inequality along racial lines makes it more difficult for other Black entrepreneurs to do the same. 

What Did Ashley Athills Do after Hearing the Legalization News?

Ashley started looking for opportunities in the cannabis industry in 2012 and wasn’t discouraged by being a minority as a person and woman of colour. She believed her knowledge of cannabis could contribute valuable perspective and made her presence known at industry events.

Why Is There a Lack of Black and Indigenous Leadership in the Industry?

University of Toronto sociology professor and the study’s leader author Akwasi Owusu-Bempah stated that the absence of Black and Indigenous leaders in the cannabis industry is not simply a matter of diversity or representation. He explains that these two groups were the most affected by the prohibition of cannabis, meaning that officials unfairly targeted and criminalized them even for minor offences.

Were There Purposeful Attempts to Inclusion?

Unlike some places in the United States that have created social equity programs to help those affected by the criminalization of cannabis to start their legal businesses, Professor Bempah stated that Canada hadn’t done enough to include marginalized communities in the legal cannabis industry. 

What Were Kure Cannabis’ Thoughts on the Reports?

Kure Cannabis owners Carrie and Adam Mussell, the first Indigenous-owned dispensary in British Columbia, were unsurprised by a report that found Indigenous people face systemic barriers in the cannabis industry, like struggling to open a business account. 

Who Are the People That Run Kure Cannabis, and What Were Their Plans?

Carrie and Adam started Kure Cannabis on the Skwah First Nation reserve in Chilliwack, B.C., before it was legal. However, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) unfairly raided them. Even if officials didn’t charge the owners, they closed the business and applied for a legal licence. After eight months, they finally got their right and reopened their business on June 21, 2019.

How Did Keenan Pascal Respond to the Report?

Token Naturals CEO Keenan Pascal launched Black Canadians in Cannabis to connect with other Black professionals and those hoping to get their start in the industry. Although Pascal credits his connections and financial background for being able to start his company, he acknowledges that doing so can be challenging for entrepreneurs without a network or experience. 

However, the focus on Black-owned and led businesses in connection with Black Lives Matter protests has brought more attention to the industry’s diversity issue.

What Did Pascal Do? 

Pascal started a group called Black Canadians in Cannabis in the summer of 2020 to help professionals connect and share advice and contacts. The group has around 40 members and has already led to partnerships. They bridge alliances and help each other succeed in the cannabis industry.

Who Should Encourage Diversity in the Cannabis Industry? 

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah published a report emphasizing the absence of diversity in Canada’s cannabis industry. He urged federal and provincial governments to apply a “racial lens” in reviewing the Cannabis Act to ensure that officials consider the legalization’s impact on racialized Canadians.


What are your thoughts on the minority’s current struggles, and how do you think governments can support them? Do you know any other Canadian cannabis businesses owned by black and indigenous people? Let us know. 

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