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 “Creating Inclusive Cannabis Retail Spaces”
Written by Hez Murphy
Story Time: During the last two years of the pandemic, most of my photo ID expired. I was able to renew my Ontario Health Card online, but I wasn’t able to update my photo. Because I have a G2 class licence, I wasn’t able to renew it (and don’t need to as the deadline for G tests has been extended until the end of the year). So while I have a driver’s licence and an updated health card, I technically don’t have a valid photo ID that looks like me. As a trans non-binary person, this is terrifying. I’m well over 30, but I get asked for ID on a regular basis. (Thanks to my obsession with sunscreen!) While many would take this as a compliment, every single time it happens to me I experience a level of anxiety that most people will never know – not only because I may be denied service, but because it feels like an inherent rejection of who I am. I’m constantly worried that my situation won’t be met with consideration and compassion, or worse that it could lead to violence.
It’s a painful experience, and it’s something members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community deal with on a regular basis.
I’m sharing this story with the hope that it will help you understand why some customers, particularly trans and gender non-conforming people, may be nervous to present their identification when entering your store. More often than not, the details on their ID and how these details are presented may not completely match. The ways in which your staff interact with these customers can make all the difference in their lives and, in turn, their experience with your brand.
In a world where trans people often have to justify their existence, there is an opportunity here to create a positive experience within your cannabis retail store where our queer, trans and non-binary friends won’t be put in a position to potentially out themselves to a stranger. While it’s important to always follow the legislative requirements, this can be done while also being compassionate and having empathy for the people being served.
Be mindful and lead with empathy
The first interaction a customer has with your store is the identification screening process at the front door. When checking the identification of trans and non-binary customers, you have the power to affect how welcomed and safe they feel while shopping in your store. Here are three key things to remember:
1. If you’re checking a customer’s ID and they openly tell you they’re trans, please meet that information with acceptance and grace. Don’t make jokes, quote transphobic movies, or be rude. And please don’t ask invasive questions. We’re just here for the weed.
2. Don’t use someone’s name in conversation just because it’s on their ID. Some stores encourage this as a way to build rapport with their customers. While the intention may be pure, referring to a trans person as the name they no longer use is called deadnaming*, and can be incredibly harmful, painful, and triggering. If you’re determined to bond with customers in this way, simply ask them what their name is instead of assuming.
3. Trans folks who pursue HRT (hormone replacement theory) will experience certain physical changes; changes to their appearances can sometimes happen gradually over time, or drastically in a short period depending on
the individual dose. So, even if someone’s identification is up to date, depending on their HRT journey, they may look different than the photo on the ID. You can be sensitive to this while checking IDs by looking for the facial features that tend to remain the same (eyes, mouth).
*NOTE: As anyone who’s tried to legally change their name or other details on their ID can tell you, it is a lengthy process with a number of difficult hurdles. The pandemic hasn’t made the process any easier. Keep this in mind when checking names, photos and gender markers on ID.
Hire a diverse team for all positions
Being mindful of who you have working the concierge/door at your retail store is another low-cost/high-impact way to make people feel safe in your space. More often than not, it’s the newest or least experienced budtender who gets put on
door duty. This seems logical in theory – have your experienced budtenders sell and the new ones watch and learn. However, they are also new to the industry, may be less familiar with your regular clientele, and have less experience with the finer nuances of handling customer issues with empathy and grace. This can potentially leave room for trans folks to be maltreated, despite the staff member’s best intentions.
While security guards might be considered essential at some retail locations, many members of the queer, Black and Indigenous communities do not feel safe in the presence of law enforcement or other similar types of authority. If you must have security guards at the door, pair them with a staff member that has a good rapport with your customers to check IDs as they enter the store. Ultimately, customers will 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. 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.
For more tips on building sensitivity and awareness into your retail brand, check out my article “Creating Inclusive Cannabis Retail Stores”
Special consideration for curbside orders
During the pandemic and with the implementation of online ordering, we saw an influx of fraudulent online orders. Part of our duty of care as budtenders became protecting the store and our customers from these orders. Being vigilant for large, unusual orders, out-of-province postal codes, and verifying that the names on the orders matched the names on the credit cards was part of the job. In theory, good habits were built. In practice, the same rigidity allowed for the othering of the trans community, and those customers who go exclusively by their chosen names had to fight for access to their online orders.
Interestingly, this process wasn’t the case with any orders placed online for delivery to the customer. Anyone at the delivery residence over the age of 19 with a valid photo ID could accept the delivery, whether they were the person who placed the order or not.
This created a double standard that led to many problems for trans and non-binary customers. It doesn’t have to be this way. If a degree of leeway can be given with names matching the identification exactly as presented on delivery orders then surely the same accommodations could be made for customers in-store.
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 customers to add their chosen names to the order while also allowing for verification with their legal identification. It would also provide budtenders with the information they need to correctly address the customer during their interactions, mitigating the risk of deadnaming a customer by using a name they no longer identify with.
Being an ally means taking action
Until the platforms we’ve become so reliant on in-store change, the power and opportunity lies with the budtenders, keyholders, supervisors, and managers of cannabis retail stores to build an inclusive environment. The first interaction customers have with your store is when they walk through the front door.
Ultimately, you have the ability to affect change, even at the smallest level. Being an ally and building inclusivity into your business practices means looking at every step in the customer journey and then taking measured action. These adjustments to how your staff verify the identification of your customers can dramatically impact how some customers experience your brand. Remember, creating inclusive spaces for staff and customers benefits everyone and is a smart long-term investment for your business.
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.