Social equity is one of the hottest conversations in cannabis. That’s because the cannabis industry and the lawmakers policing it need to atone for all of the damage they’ve done to Black and Brown communities.
“We were the first to go to jail, we should be some of the first to get licensed.”– Virgil Grant
Few people know this better than Virgil Grant, who was instrumental in bringing Los Angeles’ cannabis industry and social equity program to life.
“I got Measure M passed and a social equity program voted on unanimously. I just did what I knew was the right thing for my people and my industry colleagues. When they write the history books about cannabis, there’s no way a book can be written without Virgil’s name in it,” he says during a phone call with Leafly.
Who is Virgil Grant?
Virgil Grant is a longtime cannabis owner and operator in the city of Los Angeles, California. He is the owner of the California Cannabis West Coast, a chain of dispensaries with three locations in the downtown, Melrose, and Crenshaw districts of LA.
Additionally, Grant is a founding member of Greater Los Angeles Caregivers Alliance (GLACA) and co-founder of both Southern California Coalition and California Minority Alliance, three advocacy groups that helped push for legalization and social equity in LA cannabis. You may recognize his face from BET’s Smoke: Marijuana + Black America documentary.
Virgil has been one of the biggest movers and shakers in the LA cannabis community since the early 90s. Even before legalization, Virgil was running the streets of Compton, with distribution set up throughout housing projects in Watts, East LA, West LA, and Crenshaw.
His product’s reputation in the streets led him to connecting with many of your favorite rappers back then, including Eazy-E, Coolio, MC Eiht, DJ Quik, 2pac, and pretty much the entire cast of Death Row artists.
In 2004, Virgil transitioned from the legacy cannabis market to the medical cannabis market. He opened The Holistic Caregivers in the heart of Compton, followed by locations in Garden, Crenshaw, Downtown LA, Koreatown, and finally The Valley.
“By then, I was an advocate. I was a founding member of the Greater Los Angeles Caregivers Alliance (GLACA). That was one of the first organizations that sprouted up outside of NORML. NORML was there to legalize cannabis; GLACA focused more on the safe access of retail,” Grant says.
Unfortunately, in 2008, his successful businesses would be raided by federal agents, landing Virgil in federal prison for six years.
Upon release in 2014, Grant immediately got back to the mission, tapping in with advocacy groups like GLACA; the LA Cannabis Task Force; Cultivators Alliance; Delivery Alliance, and Manufacturers Alliance.
During this time, he saw that all of these groups needed a single unified voice, and through the power of his reputation, his network, and his connections with the City Council, Virgil (in conjunction with the Southern California Coalition) became just that.
Moving with the power of the people behind him, Virgil’s next mission was creating a legal framework for cannabis taxation, enforcement, and regulation in the city of Los Angeles. This was the birth of Measure M.
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What is Measure M?
Proposition 64 legalized adult-use cannabis on a California state level. Measure M added the legal framework needed to get the city of Los Angeles’ cannabis industry up and running.
“Compton, Watts, South Central, Eastside of LA, this is where the failed War on Drugs targeted. We wanted to make sure that if you live in those zip codes, and you have a cannabis felony, then you’re first in line for social equity. It wasn’t about race.”– Virgil Grant
It helped repeal the controversial Proposition D, which placed a 135-dispensary limit on the number of cannabis businesses that could operate in LA and blocked many previously-legal dispensaries from gaining licensing.
Virgil was a key author in Measure M, and when it passed, he demanded the city council implement a social equity policy along with it. They voted and approved the program unanimously.
“We were the first to go to jail, we should be some of the first to get licensed. Everyone voted unanimously to have a social equity program tied to Measure M. Out of social equity, they created a Division of Cannabis Regulations (DCR). If I didn’t start Measure M, there wouldn’t be a DCR,” he says.
From Measure M, sprouted the Los Angeles Social Equity Program, a three-tier program that was supposed to provide licensing priority to people residing in zip codes that have been most affected by the failed War on Drugs.
Slow to no progress
Unfortunately, very little of the Los Angeles Social Equity Program has panned out for its applicants. And even though Virgil Grant is responsible for bringing social equity to the table in LA, the city has got to be willing to serve it up for the people.
Over four years after Measure M passed, there shouldn’t still be social equity applicants waiting on licenses. But such is life in Los Angeles cannabis, where lawsuits and lengthy administrative processes have stacked the odds against Black and brown cannabis businesses.
And while we saw some movement in retail on the Los Angeles cannabis scene in 2021, there are still many ways that the program can be improved to make it truly supportive of the minority-owned businesses that are trying to make it in the legal cannabis industry in California.
“They can brag and say we do have a social equity program. But at the end of the day, the Division of Cannabis Regulations (DCR) dropped the ball in a huge way. The only people that are harmed and impacted are the same people that were negatively impacted before. That’s just trauma on top of trauma.”– Virgil Grant
Editor’s note: since interviewing Virgil Grant, two Black-women-owned dispensary businesses, Gorilla Rx and Josephine & Billie’s, have opened in Los Angeles.