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Creating Inclusive Cannabis Retail Spaces

Aug 31, 2022 | Allyship In Action

Allyship in Action: Creating Inclusive Cannabis Retail Spaces

The True Colours Initiative, by Aqualitas and Reef Organic, ensures a portion of our profits goes to effect change, providing space and resources for impactful groups and people to flourish. Alongside donations, diverse voices are highlighted, elevated, and compensated to guarantee that the initiative provides a strong foundation for evolution with important context and education. Our ‘Allyship in Action’ series provides a set of tools, stories, insights and inspiration to ensure the intersection of Cannabis and Queerness is understood and respected, from those who can rightfully speak on their subjects of expertise.

In the previous installment of the series we discussed “Cannabis & Queerness, the Inextricable Link”.

Written by Hez Murphy

As a nonbinary person in the cannabis retail space, I’ve learned the hard way that I have to be very open and clear about my pronouns for them to be respected. I’ve experienced supervisors who have refused to use my pronouns and I’ve worked with people who, when customers misgendered me, used it as an opportunity to do the same. Over time, it has become easier to stand up for myself and demand the respect that I deserve as a human being. My pronouns – they/them – are proudly highlighted on my resume, on my LinkedIn profile and on my Instagram account (where, to be fair, it says they/he, because if you’re gonna get it wrong, get it the right kind of wrong). But I still get misgendered so often that I’ve literally tattooed my pronouns across my knuckles to get the point across (it still doesn’t).

Why am I sharing this with you? Because the quickest way to lose me as a customer in your store, or as an applicant for employment at your company, is to misgender me. I won’t shop at a store that greets me as “ma’am” when I walk in (I’m not a woman, and honestly, what woman likes to be called ma’am?), and I won’t work at a store that misgenders me without correction at any point during the hiring/onboarding process.

Turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way. According to recent insights from McKinsey & Company, social values are shaping purchase decisions more than ever – and retailers that act now stand to attract consumers’ loyalty and spending. This sentiment is even more important for younger consumers. McKinsey found that 75% of Gen Z consumers won t buy from a brand that runs ad campaigns perceived as “macho, racist, or homophobic.” In the years ahead, millions more consumers will age into eligibility to join the ranks of inclusive consumers and cannabis employees, rewarding businesses that pursue inclusion and avoiding those that don’t.

Here are a few ways you can create inclusive spaces and set yourself up for success in such a rapidly growing industry.

Respect everyone’s pronouns

Using the correct pronouns for a person is literally the lowest bar on the ladder of respecting others and yet it’s often met with pushback. Yes, it can be hard to change the way you speak, but if you’ve ever used the word staycation in a sentence you’ve demonstrated that your language has the ability to evolve. No one was talking about terpenes in stores during the first year of legalization, and now we’re dropping words like “caryophyllene” casually in sentences. The problem isn’t with new language, so if you’re hesitant to change the way you speak for the safety and inclusion of others, I invite you to look within yourself and ask yourself why.

No one is perfect, So, what should you do if you misgender someone? It’s simple: quickly correct yourself and then move on with the conversation. More often than not, the person you misgendered will notice the mistake, but what they’re looking for in this moment is the correction. Everyone makes mistakes and that’s okay! Just remember that there’s beauty in the attempt, and the more you practice using someone’s pronouns, the easier it will get.

If you hear a customer misgendering your co-workers, there’s a way to step in from a safe distance. For example, if they say something like; “oh, she helped me last time,” you can use the person’s pronouns correctly in your response: “oh yeah, they love their sativas for sure!” This simple act shows your co-worker that you see them, but doesn’t put you in the position of having to correct a customer you may not have a relationship with, or who doesn’t get it.

Ultimately, being referred to by your correct pronouns in the workplace is a human right. If you find yourself constantly being misgendered by co-workers or management, please reach out to House of Flowers for support.

For more tips on building your inclusive language lexicon, check out “The power of inclusive language” by Bennen Elias.

Be mindful and flexible when checking IDs

Some customers, particularly trans and gender non-conforming people, may be nervous to present their ID when entering your store as oftentimes the details on their identification and how they present may not completely match.

In a world where we, as trans people, often have to justify our existence, the hope is to create an experience within cannabis retail stores where our queer, trans and non-binary friends won’t be put in a position to potentially out themselves to a stranger.

As anyone who’s tried to legally change their name or other details on their ID can tell you, it’s a lengthy process with many hoops to jump through. Furthermore, making those changes may not be easily accessible for all those who desire it. The pandemic hasn’t made the process any easier and backlogs at Service Canada mean some folks may not have an ID that exactly reflects how they present in the world today. Keep this in mind when checking names, photos and gender markers on your customers’ identification. While it’s important to always follow the legislative requirements, it can be done while also being compassionate and having empathy for the people being served.

Hire a diverse staff

Customers will automatically feel more comfortable when they see themselves reflected in the space. The most accessible and affordable way to do that is to hire a diverse team. According to The Racial Bias in Retail study, two out of five shoppers report experiencing discrimination based on their race or skin colour. Issues include being followed by staff, ignored, denied discounts and being mistaken for sales associates. I’ve seen first hand how much more comfortable queer customers are in-store when they see themselves reflected in the staff working there. Hiring a diverse staff that reflects the communities your stores operate in is a high-impact way to make people feel welcomed and safe.

Create inclusive forms

During the pandemic, online orders for delivery and curbside pickup skyrocketed. This shift meant that many customers were placing their orders through an online form. These forms are often gendered and rigid in their requirements. In a perfect world, online shopping platforms like Dutchie and Buddi would add a new field to

their digital order form — order name. This simple adjustment would allow for trans and non-binary customers to add their chosen names to the order while still allowing for verification with their legal ID. It would also provide budtenders with the information they need to correctly address the customer at pickup or delivery (as opposed to deadnaming them, as mentioned above). Similarly, if you have a

customer loyalty program that requires a form, consider whether knowing the customer’s gender is necessary. Likely, it’s not.

For your staff, it’s important to ensure applications, on-boarding documents, and health care benefit forms are gender inclusive. Simply consider if it’s necessary to collect information regarding the sex and gender of your employees. If it is necessary, any section that requires employees to select a gender — “male” or “female” — should be replaced with a blank line for employees to write in what they feel best represents them. (Note: non-binary is not the third gender, and “other” isn’t an appropriate option as this is literally “othering” anyone who doesn’t identify as binary male or female.)

When considering administrative documents, the best practices of the Ontario Human Rights Commission recommend the following:

  • Recognize a trans person’s preferred name and gender in all administrative systems and documents (including hard copies and electronic).
  • Show how any requirement for a person’s ”legal” name and gender is legitimate (reasonable and bona fide) in the circumstances.
  • Undertake system reviews to identify how electronic databases, IT systems and other relevant information processes can be modified to recognize a person’s chosen name and gender when it does not match legal documents.

And as always, confidentiality is key – it is never okay to share any medical or personal information about your employees. It is your responsibility as an employer to maximize privacy and confidentiality of any information related to a trans person’s gender identity, or to the extent the trans person wishes. This includes information that directly or indirectly identifies that a person’s sex is different from their gender identity.

Design accessible store experiences

Inclusivity includes accessibility. When designing a retail space, it’s important to consider all of the employees’ and customers’ needs, including those who may not be able-bodied. Consider how your store environment is accessible for those who use wheelchairs and walkers. The height of the counters and the spacing of floor displays can affect how disabled folks navigate the space, whether they be customers or employees.

Having staff that are flexible and willing to anticipate the different needs of people in the space goes a long way; being ready to assist customers in accessible areas of the store from a tablet is an easy way to help make the space more inclusive for all. Provide appropriate bathrooms in whatever capacity you can (public or staff only) and make them gender neutral and big enough to accommodate chairs or walkers. Giving employees the option to sit or take breaks from standing when necessary and without hassle, and staffing the store appropriately enough so that people can take bathroom breaks are easy ways to make employees feel comfortable and considered while at work.

Laying the foundation for change

If you told me four years ago that I would be involved with a nonprofit serving queer and trans folks in the cannabis industry, I might not have believed you. But since coming out as nonbinary and joining the cannabis industry, thinking about inclusivity is something that has become part of my every day life. And as each day passes, I see a need for House of Flowers and the work we do to support queer folks in the cannabis industry more and more. Cannabis and queerness go hand in hand and we all need to be part of building an inclusive industry where everyone feels safe and welcome. There are no disadvantages to cultivating safe and inclusive spaces. By taking these steps, you can begin to lay the foundations of an inclusive and safe workplace and retail experience for everyone who comes through your store. If you put the care and consideration into curating an inclusive space, your employees will absolutely reflect that. It may mean putting in a little more effort at first, but the difference you’ll make for your co-workers, employees, and customers will be priceless.

About The Author

Hez Murphy (they/them) is a nonbinary cannabis professional and queer activist based in Toronto, On. They’re one of the co-founders of House of Flowers, a non-profit that supports the 2SLGBTQIA+ community within the cannabis industry. Find them on Instagram @apocalypstick_now and @houseofflowerscan.

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