How Can Black People Get Rich Off Cannabis, Too?

(Gillian Levine for Leafly)

How can Black people get rich off cannabis, too?

It’s a question I’ve asked multiple Black cannabis professionals over the past month. While I’ve received many different answers and pieces of advice, the truth is, it all comes down to one thing: a true and complete industry demand for reparations to those harmed most by the war on drugs—completely backed, supported, and upheld by the government.

Social Equity Programs

The single most important thing for Black people in the cannabis industry is a social equity system built by the government to help educate, support, fund, build, and give Black people the opportunity to succeed across all channels of this industry.

Social equity, reparations, the war on drugs, and minorities in cannabis: these cannot continue to be buzzwords used to promote identities and principles that cannabis companies don’t actually stand on.

The very first social equity program in cannabis was created in Oakland, CA in 2016. It was designed to reserve and provide licensing, as well as funding, to Black cannabusinesses. It was also the prototype that every other cannabis equity program (in Los Angeles, Massachusetts, etc.) was built on.

“The whole purpose of their equity program was to give people of color and people with [criminal] records opportunities and ownership that white people have had in cannabis,” said Tucky Blunt, co-owner of Blunts+Moore, the very first dispensary to open under Oakland’s social equity program. “[This helps] people who have wrongly been targeted by the war on drugs to obtain money in this industry legally.”

Blunt, now 39, has been trying to open a cannabis retail location since the age of 22. However, as a person of color with a criminal history, he was barred from entry for so long that he had already given up. Until this program came along.

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“Without this program, I would’ve been stuck,” he told me. “I tried to open my first dispensary around [age] 22. Me and my cousin had $1.5 million cash, and one of our white homeboys [in the industry] told us flat out, ‘The way it’s set up now, y’all will never get in. You can buy the property and all the stuff, but once they find out it’s a Black owner, it’s going to be a problem.’”

This deep-rooted system of oppression in the cannabis industry is the exact reason Day 1 Equity, in all counties, cities, and states that legalize cannabis, is so important. The day legalization happens, there needs to be a social equity program that simultaneously goes into effect.

Funding—and a Lot of It

Two. Million. Dollars. That’s the number I heard when I asked Raft Hollingsworth, co-owner (along with his wife, Joy) of Hollingsworth Cannabis, how much it would take to open a Tier III producer/processor facility in Washington state.

Three. Million. Dollars. That’s what Tucky Blunt quoted for the lowest possible amount of cash one would need to open a dispensary in California.

The cost of creating a plant-touching business is astronomical when it comes to licensing, manufacturing, operating, and general overhead. Son. Who has that kind of money?

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Private investors, that’s who. However, when those private investors don’t want to fund your business, how can you proceed? This, again, is where the importance of social equity programs providing funds to support Black businesses is established. Without it, the industry cannot honestly say it’s providing the same opportunities to the marginalized.

Considering the costs of owning and operating a cannabis business, the fund also needs to be large and accessible enough for more than just a couple businesses to get up and running.

Education

There is a huge lack of educational resources for Black people who want to enter this industry. Even in a perfect world where the government supports social equity programs that provide licensing and funding, without incubators that provide education and mentorship for Black people on how to navigate the business of this industry, we will still be in a position to fail—or even worse, be taken advantage of by big corporate entities. Blunt calls them “The Snakes.”

“Everyone won’t be capable of negotiation with The Snakes,” Blunt said. “We’re like blood in the water. So equity candidates are a hot commodity, and all these big corporations want to come buy us out and send us on our way.”

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Licenses, which grant you the ability to open a business, hold mega-million-dollar value. So if you’re a person who’s never had more than a few dollars in the bank, and you’re suddenly given a piece of paper worth millions—but you’re not educated on the value of that paper—you’re now a prime target for a someone who does understand its value.

“I was offered $3 million by a company,” Blunt said. “Why would I take your $3 million when I can make that in a year, easily? The whole purpose for this program is for me to have ownership—not for you to come in as Big Pharma and buy me out.”

Empowerment From Ownership

Along with ownership, another critical component to the success of Black people in the cannabis industry will be empowerment from within. That is, an understanding that when one of us makes it, one of us has to come back and empower others along the way. Outside of true government support, this is how we create a space for ourselves within cannabis. We are our brother’s keeper.

In new industries, there is a theme of competition that comes from everyone racing to be the first or the best. This doesn’t have to be like that. There’s plenty of money in cannabis for everyone, and tremendous value in collaboration.

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One person who can go the distance, create space, and empower our community from within is Al Harrington, former NBA player and owner of Viola, a cannabis producer, processor, and lifestyle brand. On the Van Lathan podcast, when asked if he thinks he will make the same money with Viola as he did in the NBA, he replied, “We’re going to be a billion dollar company.”

If Viola, or any other company in position for massive success, can reach the top, then come show the rest of us how to do so.

True Government Support & Community Reinvestment

Reparations for the war on drugs cannot and will not happen unless the government completely backs and supports it. On this, I spoke to Mary Pryor, co-founder of CannaClusive, a community-focused business aimed at fair representation of people of color in cannabis.

This industry was built on the backs of people who look nothing like those who are on the front street of its success. It’s time for that to change.

“When it comes to equity, most people think expungement or vacating records is pretty much it,” Pryor told me. “What about taxes going into reinvestment for communities harmed by the war on drugs? What about programs and job training and incubators so that people who were previously incarcerated will have a way into this industry?”

I repeat: The success of Black people in the cannabis industry comes down to how truly committed the government and this industry as a whole are to correcting and repairing the damage done to marginalized communities from the war on drugs.

Social equity, reparations, the war on drugs, and minorities in cannabis: these cannot continue to be buzzwords used to promote identities and principles that cannabis companies don’t actually stand on.

This industry was built on the backs of people who look nothing like those who are on the front street of its success. It’s time for that to change. It starts and ends with an industry demand and government support. Period.