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How can Black people get rich off cannabis, too?

March 25, 2019
(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.

Dante Jordan's Bio Image

Dante Jordan

Dante Jordan is a Content Associate for Leafly, where he specializes in creating topics pertaining to cannabis products, strains, and dispensaries. He also manages the Leafly strain database.

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  • TPB

    I love seeing black people get rich by any means, but this article is just insulting.

    “How can black people get rich in the cannabis industry?”

    “The only way is if they’re given free money,” seems to be the implied answer.

    No, black people are just as brilliant, capable, and entrepreneurial as non-black people, and to suggest handouts are the only way they can make it in the industry is patronizing and insulting.

    • Mac Sleepy

      It’s not patronizing or insulting, it’s true. Please don’t speak for us. Thanks

    • Wam S

      Blacks have on average 85 IQ’s whereas whites have 100 IQ’s and Asians have 107 IQs.

  • Brother Undercover

    Including the incubators into this discussion is one of the most important things. Education on building and maintaining a business, learning negotiation, understanding private equity and the assessing the players in the room will greatly benefit any social equity programs created in tandem with record expungement. Reaching back and being your brother’s keeper is a lot easier when they have the necessary tools to listen and take advice.

    • Chris Church

      I agree with your advice for anyone starting ANY business, not just a cannabusiness. But I see no reason for any “social equity” programs. Social Equity programs create a different kind of social inequity. The barriers to entry for cannabusiness are the same no matter your skin color, religion, sexual orientation or creed. If you want to start a business… have experience in business, get as much education as you can, use the tools already present for helping start that business (incubators, SBA SCORE program, continuing education, etc.). Oh, and here’s the hard part… don’t have a maximum-risk business plan (crop losses, federal illegality, etc.), and don’t expect anyone else to provide most of the capital critical to your business’ success.

  • Chris Church

    Sorry, I completely disagree with the premise of the government providing a special program for any given minority. I do not want my tax dollars going into a special entitlement program when others are trying to do the same thing, apparently without the “equity” leg up. And as far as Mr. Blunt’s trouble opening a cannabusiness, I don’t think it had anything to do with his race, but with the criminal history indicated in the article. Lets not create special racial “equity” programs that really target advantages for any particular minority.

  • 360dunk

    In other words, ownership in the cannabis industry is the same as any other industry. It takes a lot of money to start up a dispensary, so yes, the owners can look nothing like the customers. It seems like the most common way for minorities to get in is to produce edibles, oils, paraphernalia, etc. If you Google ‘minority owned cannabis’ you’ll see a bunch.

    However, I live in a state (Nevada) where one dispensary (out of 58) is minority-owned. Have to agree with the author that the best way for many to get involved is by raising capital from a group of investors.

  • Kirkgeorge Lorel Morrison

    Great article… not necessarily the title though… lmao. Throws you off. Yes the playing field needs to be leveled as well as old weed charges being expunged from records in legal states. I know some brilliant entrepreneurs starting up just fine by themselves from the ground up as well. This has always been the game that they play with EVERYTHING and it will never really change. We always find a way around it though.

    • John Chrysostom

      the playing field is level, giving people special treatment is inequality try again lol no more free stuff

  • Fun Please

    Reparations is like living off the back of a slave, hypocritcal at best
    Blacks don’t need government programs to take from others in modern a modern day Jim Crow program, even Malcolm X knew this
    Blacks can make money the same way others do
    Stop being racist

    • Mac Sleepy

      Speak for yourself.

      • Chooch Mawie

        mac sleepy wake your dumb ass up, quit sucking on your thumb and whining — get up, get out, get something

        • Chris Church

          So I guess expressing an opinion is only OK when its your opinion? Yeah, that makes sense.

  • Macc Mosley

    We all have same opportunities in this country,nobody deserves special treatment,get up get out and get it yourself

    • Mac Sleepy

      Easy for you to say. This comment is laughable, but definitely not funny. Sad

      • Macc Mosley

        Easy for me to say? Shit I made it out and my life was a mess. Its up to you and nobody else,stop looking for reasons why you cant do something,excuses are for losers,get up and do it.

      • Macc Mosley

        Mcdonalds is always hiring,you know how much a manager at Mcdonalds makes? The problem is some people dont wanna start at the bottom,they think cleaning toilets or flipping burgers is beneath them so they sit around waiting for life to happen, instead of making moves themselves. Do whatever it takes even if that means washing dishes,just get moving,start washing dishes them work your way to bussing tables,waiter,bartender.Thon your days off keel looking for better jobs,dont quit until you have one thats better,just do it. 90% of all millionaires are self made.

  • Mark Werenczuk

    The best thing black people can do for themselves to succeed is to stop segregating themselves with stupid articles like this. The government not giving handouts based on skin color would be another good way of promoting equality. The great depression is over. Welfare has no place in America anymore.

  • Mac Sleepy

    I love how this article proves how hard it is for us Black people to make it in this business, simply by reading the comments from the White people in these comments. Mane we got so far to go, it’s like running up a mountain with an open parachute on your back. Even self proclaimed liberal white people can not take how deeply rooted their own racism is. But hopefully, things will change. I doubt it tho. Just read these comments, sh*t is sad. smh

    • Wam S

      Lol how about everyone is racist. I assume that something bad might happen to me if I go to a black neighborhood, for example.

  • Mac Sleepy

    They deleted my comment. lol

  • What does anything have to do with the color of ones skin???? this is why I am so damn tired of Identity politics. It’s like if I called Myself Scottish-American what that does is make me half American, not a full American, not a real American. I grew up in a town where no one had a chance unless you made your own chance it didn’t matter your color we were all on the wrong side of the tracks and some of us studied and worked hard and some got lucky but most either got dead or arrested and some did all of the above …of course not in that order. My point being, this article is shameful as if you are saying blacks just by the color of thier skin are inherently incapable to get ahead sounds racist to me like the ugenics people who spread the rumor to rich liberals that the blacks just by vurture of thier birth were inferior, had smaller brains, were going after your daughters and needed to be bread out of society( like Hillarys super predator comment) so they started planned parenthood, It’s appauling to Me that in the year 2019 people are still judging people by the color of thier skin and not the strength of thier character.

  • Alex Echols

    As you can see from most of the previous comments, only non-minority/non-black people have a big issue with something like this. Here’s the truth that cannot be denied: the cannabis investment and business game is a very tricky one. Thousands of people (mostly white) profiting off the same plant that has so many minorities still being incarcerated for. So, to say that everyone has the same exact chance and starting point is just false.

    • Gavin Kogan

      This is the core issue. Investors invest in business models and business people who reflect the investor’s prejudice of “good odds.” A criminal conviction? Lack of a college degree? Nobody you know in common? Appearance that does not meet the investor’s prejudice of who or who is not successful? There is not a single doubt that access to capital is the core problem and core starting point for this conversation. Is an investment a hand out? Is a loan secured by assets a handout? I think we should stop talking about “handouts” and more about deeper equality in access to capital – AND with the same strings that accompanies ALL capital.

      • Chris Church

        So “due diligence” is now called “investor’s prejudice”. Yeah, I don’t think so. Being black, brown, yellow, red, pink, purple or green is not the issue here. Access to capital absolutely is. No single ethnic group is better than another, more disadvantaged than another, more deserving of another in capital markets. Have a criminal conviction? Expect it to be more difficult to be financed. No business experience? Yeah, you don’t get funded. That’s not racism, its smart investment strategy around the world.

    • Chris Church

      Sorry, but I disagree. You’re making a poor point for biasing the system for any minority. And saying white people are profiting while black people are being incarcerated is just plain old gaslighting. Sure, I’m white. I’ve also struggled for everything I have, for what my businesses have needed or had. I never thought I was privileged or entitled to what I got from investors or banks. I had to earn it. Other than the capital costs of entry, I do not see any inequity in this functioning free market hampering any race. This is just entitlement at its finest. Why expect investors or banks to take on an unproven investment with huge risks and legalities associated with it? Popping up and wanting to stare a cannabusiness doesn’t mean anyone should invest in it.

  • Vince

    That’s the most Racist shit I seen all day! Towards whites and Blacks WTF!

  • Macc Mosley

    Im a felon,grew up in dope houses with Heroin addict parents.At 27 I was homeless and a full blown addict myself and I took advantage of state programs to go to treatment for fred,cleaned up and now Im 45,own a home 3 cars a motorcyxle lifes good,if i can do it anyone can.

    • Chris Church

      Im a felon,grew up in dope houses with Heroin addict parents.At 27 I was homeless and a full blown addict myself and I took advantage of state programs to go to treatment for fred,cleaned up and now Im 45,own a home 3 cars a motorcyxle lifes good,if i can do it anyone can.

      Good for you, Sir. I’m glad your story is ongoing instead of what could have been an unhappy ending. I was homeless at 17. I’m 58 hard years old now, I have a few possessions. I have managed to build and keep a family. My wayward ways never took me into the legal system, and I am only lucky for that. But if I had been convicted of a drug crime, I certainly wouldn’t expect any “programs” to help me start what has to be the most risky kind of business there is in the US today.

  • Macc Mosley

    Im Irish and my ancestors came here as slaves,Im white do I get some money.

  • Bryan Watts

    I lost 3 good jobs just because I tested positive after working there for years….I’m white

  • Chris Church

    This article is an insult, and not just to “White” people. I’m sure that makes me a racist in someone’s eyes.

    Please explain why we need special government programs so one sector of our communities can be assured a leg up? Personally, I have no problem with those with criminal records not being able to have a cannabusiness. I also don’t think anyone except special interests are served by “special” financing or funding programs, for any business, and for any special interest, minority or not.

    Deal with the reality of Cannabis being a highly regulated, highly risky, highly speculative business and capital-intensive business and you’ll find 80% of the reason people of ANY color have trouble financing their cannabusiness. The other 20% is because Cannabis is still illegal Federally. Lets don’t create inequity by implementing special programs for one minority and for convicted criminals. Change the laws, change the opportunities. No special treatment necessary.

    Now to the “racist” comment. I see people of all race, creed or color being equal. I do not think black people or any other minority is “disadvantaged” when it comes to the Cannabis industry. I’m not happy about the apparent evolution of this industry, in its most early stages, toward big money. But lets face it… if I want money for my business and go looking for investors or a loan, I’d have to build a business case that didn’t peg the risk meter – whether that be because of experience, potential of product losses (crops), and legal troubles. Cannabis is a hugely risky business under current regulations. I am all for a lower bar for cannabusinesses and fewer hoops to jump through. Hell, I wish I could buy products from local craft producers. And I’m putting my efforts into fewer bullshit restrictions, which would lower the bar for new and new-types of cannabusinesses. But special treatment, and these are the author’s words, not mine, for “black” or any other segment of the population is wrong.

    Finally, if I’d have posted an op-ed on “can White people make money in the Cannabis industry”, I’d be flamed out of existence. Shame on you. Guess you’re just going for the headlines. It backfired with me.