According to statistics gathered by the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit focused on ending the proverbial war on drugs, in 2017, 659,700 individuals were arrested for cannabis law violations while over 90% were charged for possession alone. Despite making up 31.5% of the U.S. population, black or Latino people account for 46.9% of arrests for drug law violations. The end result is a catch-22 situation: individuals with past drug offenses are unable to land jobs, scholarships and homes; they are also often barred from working in the booming legal cannabis industry.
Recently, several social equity programs have been launched to combat and rectify this problem. The latest company to jump into the fray is Vangst, a top recruitment platform for the legal cannabis industry. On September 21, 2019, Vangst is kicking off the launch of its brand new social equity hiring initiative with a cannabis career fair in San Francisco. Highlights of the event include social equity speakers and a “record expungement clinic.” And, from September 21 to 28, Vangst will be joining the ranks of the second annual National Expungement Week to provide resources on finding jobs in the industry to those with criminal records.
Recently, Karson Humiston, CEO and founder of Vangst, took time to answer questions via email about Vangst’s decision to move forward with its own social equity program. Humiston also explained in detail what constitutes an expungement clinic. This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Iris Dorbian: What prompted Vangst to launch its own social equity programs?
Karson Humiston: Social equity is everyone’s responsibility. While the legal cannabis industry continues to grow exponentially, those with a criminal record remain excluded from the same opportunities. It’s simply a matter of doing the right thing. Social equity initiatives lower the barriers to entry into the industry. Our business model allows us to work directly with cannabis businesses and job seekers, which gives us the opportunity to facilitate social equity conversations. Both our understanding of the disparities that exist and our strategic placement within the industry made launching a social equity program an obvious choice for our business.
Dorbian: Who exactly is the targeted demographic of these social equity programs?
Humiston: The social equity applicant requirements vary by location. Typically, social equity candidates have been arrested for cannabis offenses or they have a close relative who was arrested for cannabis offenses. Also, they have a household income lower than 80% of the average median income, lost housing due to eviction and live in an area where a portion of the households are below the poverty level.
Dorbian: How is Vangst marketing to this demographic to get them to attend the San Francisco and Denver event?
Humiston: Our social impact manager Brett Berning works directly with social equity organizations to reach these populations. In partnership with The Allyance, a social equity nonprofit based in California, we’ve placed flyers and targeted messaging in low-income neighborhoods in hopes of reaching social equity applicants. We also use email communications and social media to share our event information.
Dorbian: What exactly is an expungement clinic?
Humiston: The expungement clinic is a part of National Expungement Week, a nationwide program focused on bringing accessible legal resources to communities across the U.S. Vangst will be on-site at both the San Francisco Career Fair and Denver’s National Expungement Week, providing information on job opportunities and educational literature on how to work in the industry and apply for a MED badge (a requirement for Colorado). Our expungement clinic at the San Francisco Career Fair will have pro bono lawyers provided by National Expungement Week on-site to assist those with a record in facilitating the expungement process.
Dorbian: What is Vangst’s expected turnout for these events?
Humiston: Our San Francisco Career Fair that’s hosting the expungement clinic expects hundreds of attendees, but it’s difficult to know exactly how many attendees are social equity candidates. These events are free and open to the public, so we hope to see a great turnout in both Denver, San Francisco and at all future events.
Dorbian: What are Vangst’s goals for these events?
Humiston: We hope to educate social equity job seekers about the resources available for participating in the legal cannabis industry. Information empowers individuals to improve their situations. Also, by providing resources like the expungement clinic and job opportunities through our social equity initiative, we hope to make a positive impact in the lives of those affected by the war on drugs.