When you walk into an independent bookstore, there are often a number of displays vying for your attention.
Be it tables devoted to books on a certain period of history or titles collected in recognition of an upcoming holiday, the numbers tell us that highlighting a certain subset of products is likely to result in increased attention and sales.
In some cases, such concepts can also be employed with a social justice slant in mind. Keeping with the bookstore scenario, this could take the form of a “Black History Month” display; one honoring the voices of women, etc. Though not to be confused with anything resembling a heroic effort, such relatively small but concerted choices are the kind of practical, concrete actions that can actually move the needle.
Such a hypothesis is now being tested in British Columbia, where officials have announced plans for an Indigenous Shelf Space Program. In a Sunday night news release, the province detailed how the effort would reserve shelf space in British Columbia’s privately and publicly owned recreational cannabis stores “to highlight products from Indigenous producers.”
The move is a response to calls from Indigenous business owners asking for government at both the provincial and federal level to create a more equitable market while the industry remains in its nascent form.
“After encouraging government to establish initiatives such as this for the past year and half,” Wes Sam, co-founder and executive chair of Nations Cannabis in Burns Lake, Northern British Columbia, told Marijuana Business Daily, “we hope that this is a signal that government understands the important role it can play in supporting the development of an industry in which First Nations can play a significant part.”
Though Sam termed the announcement of the Indigenous Shelf Space Program “a positive step in the right direction toward Indigenous economic reconciliation,” the plan is notably light on many vital details.
In addition to omitting some categories like wholesale procurement, the program also fails to stipulate whether participation will be mandatory or merely suggested. Given there are over 250 recreational cannabis stores in British Columbia, the difference between every store in the province being required to dedicate shelf space to products made by Indigenous cannabis operators and some of them maybe doing the same of their own volition is potentially quite vast.
“As the province moves into a period of economic recovery from COVID-19,” Sam noted, “we believe that this emerging industry can play a significant role in helping rekindle the economy while creating investment and opportunities for First Nations in a regulated industry.”
Early support for the idea shortly followed after the announcement. B.C. Attorney General David Eby was among the first to praise the idea of the Indigenous Shelf Space Program.
“By making it easier to know more about the product,” Eby said in a release, “those who choose to use cannabis can make careful decisions about what types of product they want to buy and what sectors of the industry they want to support.”
That release, from the province, detailed that products would be highlighted at privately owned cannabis stores as well as at government-run BC Cannabis locations. The shelf space program will also be featured online, with more information on timing expected to be announced shortly.
As Marijuana Business Daily also reported earlier this month, only “about 4% of Canadian federal cannabis licensees are Indigenous-affiliated.”
With such a small share of the market, it makes sense for British Columbia to make efforts to ensure First Nations cannabis companies get the same exposure as brands with immense resources at their disposal. Similar to the concept behind social equity programs in the United States, the idea of “equality” requires an understanding that all parties are not starting from a unified baseline.
As Black and brown individuals and communities were targeted by America’s War on Drugs (and continue to suffer from its influence), so too have First Nations members faced generations of discrimination and prejudice.
Thus, this shelf space plan isn’t a free pass or an unfair advantage but rather the bare minimum necessary to ensure these Indigenous cannabis operators have a chance to thrive.