The Hemp Equity Network is a project that came out of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation's All 4 NC Fellowship program. An idea was submitted by Danielle Adams, a Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor, out of Durham, NC to take special care to ensure that equity was at the center of the burgeoning hemp industry across the state. She wanted to ensure that technical, financial, and education resources were easily available to black farmers and producers in North Carolina and that those interested in tapping into the market looked to low income, rural and mostly black communities of the state to revitalize the economies of those areas.


In the hemp and cannabis industries, the harm that the war on drugs has caused and laws that put limitations on individuals with prior convictions being able to be licensed or work in the industry have stunted access to jobs and income for black workers and entrepreneurs. To try to rectify these harms, cities like Denver, CO have created Equity and Social Justice departments to specifically address inequities in the industry and the Colorado Senate passed a law putting set asides for low income individuals to receive license in their state for diversification. 


The decision makers who create the regulations and policies are often times not representative of the communities most negatively impacted by the war against cannabis and therefore often continue the oppressive systems and policies through legalization that continue to cause harm and not benefit them.


Now is the time to act because this is a hot button issue that is moving across the political spectrum quickly and if we don’t put the correct measures into place, the black community in North Carolina will fall to the same disparities—lack of access, economic exclusion, and overcriminalization—as black communities in other states. Inaction has the potential to further contribute to issues of gentrification, displacement, unemployment, access to health care and educational opportunities experienced by the black community.


Working Together to Dismantle Systems of Injustice.

We must slow the train in North Carolina such that historically negatively impacted communities are beneficiaries of the hemp and cannabis industry. If we can ensure this, then we can jumpstart the economy of Eastern NC from Elizabeth City and Rocky Mount, to Goldsboro and Kinston. Instead of hog farms that threaten our water quality and overall health, we could introduce hemp and cannabis that would replenish the soil. In the western Piedmont where manufacturing was the main economic driver, we could bring back jobs through processing and extraction, fiber making and construction, and even biofuels manufacturing! Our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the state have the potential to lead the research happening both in the fields and in the classroom…but only if we prepare.


First, we must educate decision makers. Decision makers must be educated of the importance that diversifying the NC Hemp Commission would have towards a more equitable economic system. We must also ensure that it is understood that undoing the harms caused to the black community through the war on drugs, is crucial in order to open doors for licensing, processing, farming and retail within the black community. 


We must train and educate farmers, growers, investors and business people on the full breadth of the industry. Not everyone should grow industrial hemp or cannabis, produce oils or own retail shops, but people won’t know what is right for them if they are unaware of all that is available.

In agriculture, we have to ensure that black producers know (1) where they can go to get capital and other resources and (2) how to navigate the regulations and bureaucracy of the industry in North Carolina.