The Regennabis Cannabis Live event on May 5 shone a spotlight on the myriad ways that cannabis and hemp can map to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations to drive development around the world. There are 17 goals which, according to the UN, “recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”
At the event, speakers and panelists were grouped according to SDG numbers. While the heart of each goal is vital for the survival and flourishing of humanity, at times the SDGs can feel like an abstract mess of numbers and acronyms. So instead, let’s start with a story, summarized from the keynote delivered by Patricia Villela Marino (President, Humanitas360, Brazil):
When the AIDS epidemic hit Brazil in the 1980s, thousands of vulnerable citizens were at risk. A coalition of scientists listened to advocates and made recommendations to the newly democratic government about how to quickly react and mitigate the public health crisis. The government listened and the epidemic was mitigated, saving countless lives and easing the suffering of thousands of Brazilians.
Yet today, Brazil’s government is mostly ignoring those advocating for access to cannabis medicine for epileptic children and other in need, and instead continuing to keep thousands of people in prison for drug trafficking — 65% of which are women, mostly impoverished women who were trying to support their families.
Yet when we think back to the AIDS response, we can see: “It’s possible,” said Ms. Villale, for a government to change policy and take action to address the needs and safety of its citizens.
So when it comes to cannabis and its outdated status as an illegal, unregulated drug, the question she poses to the Brazilian government is: “Why have you chosen to miss this opportunity and let prejudice and ideologies win out over science and economic opportunity?”
With this moving story of hope in mind, many speakers picked up on the encouraging opportunities for change and highlighted areas where businesses and corporations can drive change and raise the level of education about cannabis.
As Toi Hutchinson (President & CEO, Marijuana Policy Project, USA) asserted, we must “educate in order to advocate and legislate” about the potential for impact inherent in the cannabis plant.
Key Takeaways from RCL:
- Reimagining our concept of “medicine” can lead to acceptance of the holistic benefits of cannabis for individual humans and our world.
- Regenerative agriculture and economic development go hand in hand for lifting communities out of poverty.
- Innovation is necessary. The business sector has a unique ability to drive innovations that can more efficiently move the needle across multiple SDGs.
- The most impactful methods will be based on a “win-win-win” model that recognizes that cannabis and hemp work for society, environment and business.
“Our defining mantra is the need to democratize opportunities in cannabis and hemp while accelerating the innovation, products and services that will drive sustainable development and equitable growth,” said Geoff Trotter, Chief Growth Officer, Regennabis.
Data across the United States demonstrates that companies that “do DEI well, do better”, as Danielle Drummond (VP of Social Equity, Ascend Wellness, USA), said, with higher metrics across profit, employee retention, performance and customer loyalty.
If this is the case, why don’t all companies commit to implementing DEI policies?
Amber Littlejohn (Executive Director, Minority Cannabis Business Association, USA) pointed out the lack of “a collective morality” that prevents people from agreeing on “the right thing to do” in the U.S., drilling down to disagreements on the definition of equity. Bob Hoban (GPS president and global cannabis expert, USA) echoed this sentiment about the global state of cannabis policy and the multiple reasons each government may have for choosing to legalize, e.g., social reform, healthcare, decriminalization, etc.
These panelists and others addressed various realities that exist as of 2022 which present roadblocks to progress. To quickly summarize the challenges at a high level, these points include:
- Fragmentation of regulations, from cultivation and testing to licensing and finance
- Social injustices and systemic inequities, and disagreement over how to correct these
- Education of physicians about cannabis as a safe option for patients and slow federal support for cannabis research
- The time, energy and resources it takes to get governmental bodies and those in power to listen and take action to make change
Despite the identification of challenges, the day was highly focused on highlighting action and opportunities across each SDG.
Stakeholders can consider the following starting points to take action:
- Implementing diversity and social equity policies, and listening to the voices of those who live at the intersection of social inequities.
- Opening the door for doctors about newer research and supporting a shift towards valuing real-world evidence as reported by patients.
- Measuring and reporting on baseline data for carbon sequestration and regenerative farming practices.
- Applying innovations from other sectors such as blockchain technology, which is revolutionizing how we conceive of supply chain tracking and reporting for safe consumer products, carbon credits and more.
Special Highlight: Paraguay’s hemp-driven regenerative economy
One of the many real-world examples presented included a special presentation by representatives from Paraguay. The small South American country has already had two successful pilot projects involving indigenous and small farmers who are growing hemp as a profitable cash crop for export. The program is carbon neutral and creating a regenerative, circular economy, part of how Paraguay expects to achieve carbon neutrality years ahead of the UN 2030 goal. The Paraguayan representatives proudly reported that the hemp program is an example of a “win-win-win” initiative: not only is growing hemp as a crop bolstering the economy, it is funding infrastructure and lifting communities out of poverty.
Conclusion: Achieving more than profit alone is possible
Dr. Sandra Carillo (Faculty of Medicine, Panama University, Panama) called for a paradigm shift in how Western science approaches the holistic possibilities of cannabis as medicine.
Viewed in this light, the impact of hemp for Paraguay can be seen as a “medicine” to the country’s struggling economy and impoverished communities; why then can’t the rest of the world view cannabis as a medicine for our social and economic ills? Judging from the dedication and innovation evident at this RCL event, that day is coming.
Learn More about Regennabis
Watch videos of the Regennabis Cannabis Live event on their YouTube Channel