Black-Operated Cannabis Organizations Working for Equity in California Cannabis

Written by BlackbirdGo February 1, 2019
The People

Representation cannot just be limited to seeing diverse faces in television shows or magazine covers. In order for disenfranchised groups to thrive in a society systematically designed for their failure, they must also be able to obtain representation in the current economy as more than just the face of a brand, but rather as business owners and founders. With the cannabis business booming, especially now that more and more states are getting on board with legalization of recreational cannabis, it is vital that more people of color are given the opportunity to benefit from this business. The war on drugs largely affected communities of color, specifically Black and Brown communities, and, for this wrong to be corrected, we must make space for and uplift those very few dispensaries that are operated and founded by Black and Brown folks.

In my quest to find local dispensaries founded and operated by people of color, I realized very few of them exist. The report on Women and Minorities in the Marijuana Industry highlights that people of color make up less than 20% of people in the cannabis business. As mentioned in a previous article of mine, people of color, specifically Black and Latinx people, are disproportionately arrested for cannabis-related offenses even now that cannabis has been legalized for recreational use. It is disheartening to see that the communities who suffered most for cannabis use are now continuing to be underrepresented in the same industry. Thankfully, there are people like La Wanda Knox, a Black woman who is making it her mission to guide people through what it takes to get involved in the cannabis industry in Oakland. Knox is behind the website Make Green Go, which offers courses to Oakland’s Equity Program applicants that outline everything one would need in order to get their foot in the cannabis business. The courses include information on obtaining the correct licenses for cannabis businesses, best practices, and standard operating procedures—essentially the soft tools required to run a business in the cannabis industry.

The Hood Incubator is another organization working to provide more opportunities in the cannabis industry for Black and Brown individuals. The founders—Lanese Martin, Ebele Ifedigbo, and Biseat Horning—are committed to their model of community organizing, policy advocacy, and economic development. Each of the three co-founders focus on different, yet equally important, aspects of their operation. Political strategy is Lanese Martin’s main priority, with special emphasis on community organizing and policy advocacy work. Ifedigbo works diligently on business development and rallying fundraising efforts. Finally, Horning focuses on equity and education for folks of color in the cannabis business. They have a program called the Cannabis Business Accelerator, which provides business education, mentorship, technical assistance, and other resources connecting Black and Brown folks to the cannabis industry. The Hood Incubator also focuses on other community programs, including monthly member meetings, an annual community pitch event, legal clinics, and health clinics.

Supernova Women, founded predominantly by Black women and one multiracial woman, is another group focused on representation for Black and Brown women in the cannabis industry. The group was founded by Amber Senter, Tsion Sunshine Lencho, Andrea Unsworth, and Nina Parks. Although one of the founders, Tsion Sunshine Lencho, recently stepped down from the board of directors, the Supernova Women welcomed Whitney Beatty, a new member to their team and board. Beatty is in the cannabis business as the CEO of Apothecarry, a brand of stylish yet odorless containers for folks to store their cannabis products in.

Supernova Women began in 2015 and makes it their mission to uplift women of color in the cannabis industry by way of education, collaborative workshops, and advocacy for ex-offenders. They offer three main programs focusing on how to get involved in the cannabis industry. Shades of Green is a series that highlights the importance of getting people of color engaged in legislation revolving around the growing industry of cannabis. The series is made up of two panels. Current legislation, policies, and regulations are at the center of one panel, while the other takes a look how to safeguard a future where said issues are addressed in ways that are beneficial for people of color trying to make it in the industry. Another key program the Supernova Women push is their Cannabis Business workshops. These workshops are also split into two: the “101” deals with those who are new to the cannabis business and looking for resources on how to get started, while the “201” workshop prioritizes seasoned cannabis business entrepreneurs looking to expand. Finally, the organization also emphasizes Ex-Offender Advocacy and Education by hosting “expungement” clinics. These clinics offer resources and information about state laws regarding cannabis, how to obtain legal assistance, and what can be done to expunge any previous criminal charges for those who have been affected by cannabis prohibition.

It is safe to assume that the cannabis business in California will continue to boom, and, with programs and organizations such as Make Green Go, The Hood Incubator, and Supernova Women, we can only hope to see more diversity in the industry. It’s difficult to not feel defeated when trying to remain ethical amidst a capitalist system rooted in racism and classism; however, any small change in who and what we support is better than nothing at all. Black folks, who only make up 4.3% of cannabis business owners/founders but comprise more than 20% of those arrested for cannabis-related offenses, need prioritized focus and support in the cannabis industry in order to help their businesses and organizations to thrive. It isn’t enough for folks to pay lip service to Black business and organizations; instead, it is vital that we support them monetarily as they navigate through a racist, capitalist system built with their failure in mind.

Disclaimer: Keep out of reach of children. For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.