With a plethora of CBD skin care products currently on the market, there's no question that the industry is booming. In fact, investment bank analysts are already predicting that within the next decade, the CBD beauty market could go on to generate a global revenue of $25 billion and represent 15% of the total skin care industry. The buzz surrounding the ingredient, and its suspected health and cosmetic benefits, even has luxury retailers like Barney's investing money into the cannabis skin care space, along with Neiman Marcus, DSW, and Ulta.
The beauty world's current infatuation with CBD has arguably helped normalize the use of cannabinoids, and perhaps even the larger hemp — the plant CBD is derived from — and cannabis industries as well. But these are the same industries that were once viewed as deviant, and have plagued black communities with criminal convictions and decades of family separations as a result. However, with the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp production in the United States, a new path for black people to finally benefit from this market was created. Yet, it's their white counterparts who appear to be the face of the CBD beauty industry.
While there is currently no data available detailing employee diversity within CBD beauty businesses specifically, the cannabis industry as a whole seems to have major issues when it comes to gender and racial inclusion. For example, a 2017 report from Marijuana Business Daily found that only about 5% of senior roles in the cannabis industry were held by women of color. And when it came to business ownership in the same industry, women only made up 27% of people who had launched their own business, while racial minorities accounted for a mere 19%. This lack of diversity in the industry doesn't necessarily come as a surprise to Raeven Duckett, board member of Supernova Women — a group that creates opportunities for women of color to own cannabis businesses — who explains to Bustle that despite the growing popularity of CBD, some black people still tend to avoid the product out of fear.
While CBD is usually extracted from hemp, rather than marijuana, many in the black community still associate it solely with weed, along with the serious repercussions any form of possession could entail. "It goes back to the War on Drugs in the '80s and the '90s, where smoking weed, having an ounce of weed on you, could mean you're going to jail, you're ruining your life; a whole lot of like negative impacts," Duckett shares.
But she doesn't believe this same fear holds as much weight in white communities, therefore making this group more open to starting CBD businesses. "They weren't getting arrested, they weren't going to jail, and their families weren't getting torn apart as often and as horribly as black people," she adds.
To further Duckett's point, even with cannabis now being legal in several U.S. states, black communities still face harsher drug penalties for possession than whites — despite both groups using the substance at similar rates, according to the ACLU. For example, according to a 2018 report published by the Drug Policy Alliance, when both Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize cannabis use in November 2012, the total number of marijuana-related arrests decreased rapidly in those areas. But just two years later, the state of Colorado had arrested nearly three times more black people for cannabis-related activity than whites. In Washington, blacks were arrested two times more often than white people. And even in Alaska — a state where black residents only made up about 4% of the population between 2013 to 2015 — blacks were 10 times more likely to be arrested than whites during that time frame.
Considering the harrowing nature of those stats, one black woman who goes by the name Cat, and is the owner of CBD beauty brand Blissful Stoner Body Essentials, certainly had her own trepidations before launching her line. But she says that after doing her own research on CBD, she decided to take the risk and start her beauty business.
"I literally stepped out on a huge limb," she tells Bustle. "I quit my job."
To add to her uncertainty, Cat soon found out that trying to get a CBD business off the ground, especially as a black woman, would be a challenge, particularly when it came to gaining access to capital. "Funding is a very hard task, especially being black — people are taking that risk on you," she says. The New Orleans resident, who now sells everything from bath salts to body oils through her e-commerce shop, also adds that, cannabis stigma aside, she knew that as a black woman she would have a higher chance of being declined for a business loan in comparison to other racial groups. So to remedy the risk, Cat decided to ask the bank for a personal loan to cover the startup costs for her brand, which she was granted. However, when she was ready to open a business account at her bank, she decided to keep mum on the details.
"I did not mention at all that I was going to be doing a CBD business, I just said that I would be doing bath and body care products," she reveals. "The banks see [CBD] as a high-risk product, and a lot of them don't want to work with people who are in that business." However, while Cat is aware that her experience isn't unique, she does believe that these types of issues are not universal to everyone in the CBD space. "My white counterparts don't seem like they have these issues," she says.
While unsettling, the problems Cat details when it came to getting a loan certainly are not new. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency released a report exploring financial disparities among entrepreneurs of color. The findings not only concluded that minority businesses are more likely to be denied for loans than non-minorities, but when they are granted loans, people of color tend to receive lower loan amounts and pay higher interest rates in comparison to white business owners.
But it's not just black women in the CBD space who are speaking up about this issue; some white women have noticed these discouraging trends as well. "Who gets capital in this world, particularly in entrepreneurial business like cannabis?" Verena von Pfetten — co-founder of Gossamer, a cannabis-focused lifestyle publication and e-commerce site — says to Bustle, admitting that as a white woman she did not face the same hurdles as Cat when trying to raise funds. "It's white men first, white people across the board, and then black women."
Ironically, however, while black women tend to have a harder time gaining funds than other racial groups, the hemp industry in its present capacity simply would not exist in the United States without the presence of African Americans.
Throughout the 1800s, Kentucky grew the majority of hemp in the United States, which proved to be quite lucrative. But growing and harvesting the plant required intense manual labor, and white men like John Wesley Hunt — Kentucky’s first millionaire who made his fortune from hemp — did not do any of the physical work themselves. Instead, he, along with the rest of the industry, relied on the labor of enslaved black people to turn profits; giving the black community even more reason to question why they are not benefiting more from the CBD boom.
But Dorian Morris, who launched her CBD-infused line Undefined Beauty in February 2018, is one black woman entrepreneur who isn't interested in going to the bank for a loan. Instead, she's chosen to self-fund her business, but has found that pitch competitions can be a lucrative way to raise funds without as much hassle. However, that doesn't mean that this route is free of roadblocks.
"There's biases and stigmas, specifically for black women," she says. "One time, I was in this pitch competition and because of my race they assumed [my product was only] for black women. But I'm inclusive, my brand is for women, period."
But funding aside, even as someone looking from the outside in, von Pfetten still asserts that black women's presence in the industry is vital — and it's not just about helping the market meet a diversity quota. "Pain is a big reason why people seek out CBD," she says. (Most topical CBD products claim to provide some type of pain relief, though the scientific evidence to support these claims does not yet exist.) "Women's pain has long been undervalued and my understanding is that for black women, it's 10 times worse. It's these women who could possibly benefit most from CBD, or probably have even more incentive to make it available for themselves or their peers."
Pain relief is exactly why another black woman, who goes by Chica, started her CBD beauty brand, Kreaky Products. After her grandmother had a slip-and-fall incident in which she injured her knee, Chica began infusing coconut oil with CBD in an attempt to help her manage any discomfort. From there, the business owner created a facial mist, lip butter, and massage oil, all of which she sells through a private Instagram page and word of mouth. By keeping Kreaky Products at a grassroots level, Chica says she's able to prevent any common roadblocks many cannabis-related e-commerce businesses face, such as potentially being blocked by payment providers like PayPal, for example, which have been rumored to not support CBD shops. "Most of my sales come from people DM-ing me," she says. "Then I give them a number, send them a menu, and they'll send me their order back."
Bustle reached out to PayPal for an official statement on whether or not it has restrictions around the sale of CBD products, but did not hear back by the time of publishing.
Regardless of these types of issues, plus the extra pressures placed on black women in this space, Chica still feels nothing but fulfillment when it comes to her product line. "My main goal is to help people that tell me they're in pain," she says. "I'm getting so many great feelings and vibes off this. I feel like I'm actually doing something that's helping people."
While it's clear that the CBD beauty market, and the cannabis industry as a whole, has a long way to go when it comes to tackling racial and gender disparities, Duckett is still hopeful for the future. She believes that with groups like Supernova Women putting black women in the position to educate other black women on the CBD industry, while others from this racial group work to help create more spaces to share knowledge, equity may not be so far away. "We're not waiting for someone on the other side to make room for us in the industry," she says. "It's all about us standing together and making the lane for ourselves."
Readers should note that the regulations and data surrounding marijuana, CBD, and other related products are still developing. As such, the information contained in this post should not be construed as medical or legal advice. Always consult with your doctor before trying any substance or supplement.