Khadijah Tribble, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Curaleaf, is sprinkling Black Girl Magic all throughout the cannabis industry. Her mission: to diversify, educate, and provide business opportunities for the Black community. As a Black woman holding a prominent position within the cannabis industry, her extensive knowledge and career advancement provides a refreshing example that we, as black women, not only deserve to be present in such spaces; but we also belong there.
Over the past decade, cannabis consumption and distribution have quickly become more mainstream and socially acceptable. From everyday citizens to large corporations, people have become a bit more open to the possibility of exploring the wonderful world of weed. But with its growing notoriety and commercial success, many have been left to wonder what it takes to get a seat at such an exclusive, yet lucrative, table.
While it’s evident that African American and Latino communities have been hit the hardest in connection to drug-related offenses; the current changes in cannabis rules and regulations have the potential to positively impact communities often marginalized by the stigmas associated with the medicinal plant and its uses.
Curaleaf is currently the largest cannabis company in the United States, operating dispensaries in 23 states nationwide.
Prior to joining Curaleaf, Tribble founded Marijuana Matters (M2), an initiative dedicated to educating, advocating, and creating career opportunities for individuals criminalized for the same offenses now being monetized for capitalistic gain. In addition, her life-long commitment to implementing changes in the industry led her to found Marijuana Policy Trust (MPT); a think tank devoted to building diversity and inclusion on all levels of the Marijuana field.
She also holds a Masters Degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
BWMB got a chance to chat with Ms. Tribble about her expansive background and prior experiences in the cannabis industry. She also offered some exceptional insight to help other women of color get their foot in the “budding” business of Marijuana.
Where did you grow up? What were your family’s beliefs on weed?
I grew up in the South, Alabama to be exact. It was a very traditional environment. This was a place where even the smell of marijuana could result in full fledged searches of your home, public events, it didn’t matter. Especially if you were black.
So of course, my family’s response has been pretty synonymous with the general response to cannabis, prior to the normalization that began a few years ago. They believed it was a gateway drug because they saw how it’s biased criminalization led to the demise of many people, creating dysfunction within the community, and had a cascading impact on many lives.
Marijuana got looped in with harmful, harsh substances including crack cocaine, heroin, boat, and others. Because there was so much happening during the crack epidemic at the time, there was no time to differentiate. While, in reality, the most dangerous thing about marijuana is the way it’s policed.
Can you detail the first time you consumed cannabis? What was that like for you and how did it change your perspective on the plant?
I was in college, at a small, predominantly white institution in the heart of the south. Literally in the middle of Alabama.
After taking a couple of puffs, I remember having a moment I became very aware of my surroundings, and all I saw were white people. At that moment, I knew instinctively that if the police came, that I would be the one that went to jail, not any of my white peers. That scared me so badly that I walked home, about a mile, in the dark, alone, because I was afraid of what the police would do to a young black woman consuming cannabis with a group of white people.
Even while consuming, I realized it wasn’t the consumption that was crazy, it was the external environment where this plant could’ve led to me getting kicked out of school, or worse.
What do you think are the biggest barriers to entry in the cannabis industry and how does Curaleaf plan to help change that?
The way that I see it, there are three consistent barriers to entering the cannabis industry: capital, network and knowledge.
At large, you need capital to be in this industry. There’s really no way around it. If you have capital, you can afford to learn through trial and error, and remain in good standing. But, if you don’t have money, you need to have the knowledge, expertise, drive and networks, so that you can have confidence in where you’re putting your capital.
For underrepresented groups, whether it’s African Americans, women, etc., lack of capital means you have to be stronger in some of the other areas. That’s why we created our Executive Roundtable program. We found that even if we were to provide direct access to capital for individuals interested in entering the industry, without knowledge and expertise, they would burn that capital right into the ground.
Through the Executive Roundtable program, we’re hoping to build a strong pipeline of committed individuals to immerse in a full-time, one-year program, providing mentorship, education, networking opportunities and entrepreneurial support for members of communities located in disproportionately impacted areas traditionally disadvantaged by the War on Drugs.
What are three things every woman should know before starting a career in cannabis?
First off, all women should know there are a lot of badass women in cannabis. Do your research, find out who the women leaders in cannabis are in your local area, and beyond. Reach out to them, build relationships. That’s what it’s all about.
Second, this industry is like any other. It comes with pros and cons. No, there aren’t many women in key leadership roles in leading companies. But, we have a lot of commissioners and policymakers that are women. More specially, there are several women of color in the regulatory space.
Lastly, bring all that you may think is a disadvantage, and make it your superpower. Whether it’s your race, your sexuality, your socio-economic status, your education level, use it to your advantage and stand out, strong.
How and when should women go about seeking investments for their cannabis brand? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Every business opportunity is different, and must be assessed individually. Whether it’s crowdfunding, which can be very fruitful, angel investments, or a different creative method, do your research and find out what’s best for you and your business, or potential business. There are also a growing number of new accredited investors entering the industry.
I’ll also say to newer business owners, especially young people, don’t be afraid to lean on your network. Create a professional presentation to pitch and share with your family, friends, and colleagues who many find value in investing in your business. That’s what I’ve seen a lot of people do, and it’s worked for them.
I just invested into a vegan restaurant that I felt confident about. I shared with the founder, instead of asking for $100,000, if you can find 100 people to give you $1,000, that might be an easier way to achieve your goal.
Curaleaf is committed to helping the world gain clarity around cannabis and consume with confidence. How do you combat stigmas surrounding cannabis? What do you believe are the biggest myths about cannabis and why are they wrong?
The reason we lean into both clarity and confidence is because they go hand in hand, and to achieve them, you must address the two major points that create stigmas: lack of education and lack of credible sources. For example, I’d say the biggest myth is that marijuana is a gateway drug. However, if you research credible sources, you will see that this is false. If anything, marijuana’s criminalization, and the War on Drugs, has created a gateway to poverty as a result of marijuana’s prohibition.
Whether it’s cannabis, HIV, or anything else, lack of education and lack of credible sources are the two major factors that form stigmas. Curaleaf is working diligently to serve as both an educational tool and credible professional source within cannabis.
Through our Rooted in Good programming, we are educating, providing resources to, and developing relationships within local communities, especially those disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. We’re educating individuals not only on cannabis itself, but also the business opportunities within the now booming, legal cannabis industry. We want everyone to be clear and confident enough to not only take advantage of the many health benefits of cannabis, but also take their seat at the table for business opportunities within the industry.
From stakeholders and policyholders, to public health workers, moms, dads, non-plant touching individuals, or other everyday consumers, we are educating everyone within the cannabis ecosystem on what cannabis is, and what it is not. We’re tackling stigma head on, and helping individuals gain the clarity and confidence they need to benefit from cannabis.
Rooted in Good recently committed to contributing $1 million to programs that help people who were indicted with marijuana-related offenses. How do you feel this initiative will right the previous wrongs committed against communities or color?
One of the things I learned about collateral consequences, is that you can lose access to educational benefits, including scholarships, and even the right to be in school. In the case of my daughter in law, she was in nursing school and received one possession charge, one time, and now she will never be able to get her nursing license. She will never be able to return to her career field because of a minor marajuana charge. These are the types of life-disrupting issues that can affect the trajectory of someone’s life, and the life of their family. Rooted in Good is fighting everyday to reverse these wrongs, and help provide opportunities for individuals with marijuana-related offenses and to communities of color.
Most recently, Rooted in Good made a $950,000 commitment to advance social equity in cannabis in the Chicago area, which will be dispersed amongst six local community organizations, including three job training centers, two community colleges and a local business development fund. Our main focus is to support communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs by offering quality education and training, whether in cannabis or not, to help address inequities as it relates to job and career track opportunities because of their criminal record or drug-related charges.
Can you tell us about Curaleaf’s New Women Grow partnership in your own words? Why is it important to you that women of color have equity in the cannabis industry?
The Women Grow partnership presented one of those opportunities to address and benefit all women, and all parts of the cannabis ecosystem and community. Here’s why.
We know that where and when women grow, women lead. We want to build places for women to find themselves in this industry. The partnership allows us to extend opportunities to not only entrepreneurs, but also consumers, potential partners, etc. Women Grow’s executive vice president, Gia Moron, is a powerhouse Latinx woman who is helping us reach our goal of truly supporting and providing opportunities for women of color. I believe that partnerships like this give us the best chance at a more inclusive and equitable industry down the road.
When I think about health conditions present mostly in women, including breast cancer and lupus, and the work we can do to help alleviate and support some of those health disparities, it gets me excited. This Women Grow partnership is our first attempt to figure out how to build strategic relationships at a national level that will benefit women and make a strong, social impact.
What is the best part about your job?
The biggest thing for me as a black woman is being able to stand in this moment, recognizing how many black women lost their children, spouses, and communities to an over-criminalization and racialized war on drugs. To be able to lead not only this company, but the cannabis industry, and have ongoing honest conversations about the War on Drugs and its impact on communities of color is somewhat of a full circle moment.
I sit in these meetings as a professional and subject matter expert, but also as a mom who is wondering if her son’s life will be ruined forever because of a marijuana charge. And whether or not my grandchildren will become statistics because of this. Children born into families with one or more family members with a drug conviction are three times more likely to live in poverty.
So, when I’m speaking with colleagues about addressing collateral consequences by investing in the education of young people, and forcing conversations about health disparities at the intersection of cannabis and medical research, I am doing it with the intention to try and disrupt statistics. As a black woman in my position, it’s rewarding, but bittersweet, because I don’t get to divorce myself from this work.
If you didn’t decide to pursue a career in the cannabis industry, what would you probably be doing?
Everyone who knows me knows, there’s nothing else I would be doing. I’ve been working in anti-poverty and other areas to address collateral consequences, without even knowing the terminology, throughout my entire career.
If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably be retired.