Selfless Leadership – Cannabis Business Times


Photo courtesy Tahir Johnson

After graduating from Howard University, Tahir Johnson worked for several years as a financial advisor to companies such as PNC, SunTrust Banks and Morgan Stanley. But for the past three years, Johnson has worked in a variety of roles in the cannabis business and cannabis policy, including supporting social justice initiatives with the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).

In April, the US Cannabis Council (USCC), a coalition of industrial companies, advocacy groups, and associations, announced Johnson’s appointment as director of social justice and inclusion, leads state and federal social justice initiatives, and helps cannabis companies improve diversity. Johnson continues to host his Cannabis Diversity Report podcast, interviewing people of color who work across the industry.

Johnson spoke to Cannabis Business Times about his priorities in his new role and how he plans to hold companies accountable for their social justice programs and plans. Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

1) Michelle Simakis: What is one of the most important aspects of your role and priority at the US Cannabis Council?

Tahir Johnson: One of the great things about my role is that I am also a two-time employee with the Marijuana Policy Project. This gives me the opportunity to work with our policy teams and be influential in a number of areas and ensure that social justice is always at the forefront of our agenda.

2) MS: What social equity programs do you envision to support adoption in USCC member firms?

TJ: I want to run pilot programs with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) because I believe this can be a pipeline for careers and economic opportunity in the industry. I want to involve traditional social justice and civil rights organizations and truly unite the social justice community to advance our social justice agenda … and [organize] a summit for social justice. I really want to enforce accountability, which is to make sure we have tools to hold our members accountable and that our companies have best practices for social justice.

3) MS: What would it look like to hold companies accountable?

TJ: It tracks diversity metrics in organizations and then in programs as well. We have some great members who have great social responsibility programs that focus on social justice so we can emulate these examples across the industry.

Even when I think of corporate social responsibility plans, particularly Eaze’s Momentum program (a USCC member) [has] more resources and training, and they actually give operators grants and access to capital, [which is] one of the toughest problems for startups. It’s a program that I really admire.

4) MS: Where does recruiting need to start to bring about real change and inclusion in the cannabis industry?

TJ: As Howard University alum, you’ve seen the biggest companies in America come to HBCUs to attract the best, brightest talent. Hiring these people provides an opportunity to build a diverse workforce with people who can be leaders in companies.

It is important to not only hire people at the lower levels, but also people as leaders. If you look at corporate America, that’s a problem. When there is diversity in companies, they are actually hiring different different people, so it has an impact.

5) MS: Beyond hiring, how can companies promote inclusion and support a diverse workforce?

TJ: One of the things that worked fine [at Morgan Stanley] is employee resource groups so that employees can network with others within the organization. (Editor’s Note: Johnson served on the Diversity Council at Morgan Stanley.) There are so many studies showing that diverse leadership in organizations makes businesses more profitable and increases employee engagement.