Black Cannabis Industry Leaders Share How You Can Help Right Now

Diana Gonimah
Jun 8, 2020

Last week, Black cannabis leaders shared their personal perspectives on social equity and the realities of being a Black business owner. Here’s a round-up of their advice to companies and consumers about how we can all better support the Black cannabis community.

We also wanted to share round-ups of Black-owned restaurants in the Bay AreaLos Angeles, and San Diego.

Raeven Duckett, founder of Community Gardens 

Community Gardens Delivery and Distribution is the first equity business to be licensed by the State of California for adult use sales.

“My career as a cannabis social equity operator and business owner propelled me into activism. Restorative justice in cannabis is at the forefront of my activism because as cannabis becomes more socially acceptable, the (mostly white) industry leaders are quick to not only disregard but discredit the importance of participation from the black community. I’ve been in meetings with investors and advisors who tell me that targeting black women is ‘too specific’ or question if someone from the Black community could afford my services. In the moment, it’s hard for me to know how to respond properly. The internal battle feels constant. I question if I should spend my time validating the prestige black audiences bring to brands across business categories and I know my passion will come off as aggression, or be totally written off.

I express my frustration through policy work and information sharing with Black and Brown cannabis entrepreneurs. Activism on a day to day basis looks like lots of meetings; city council, state capitol, workshops. I interact with a lot of well intentioned public officials who usually lack the financial support and industry knowledge to put forth a comprehensive program that supports black and brown participation in the cannabis industry. I usually help with the latter.

I end my day like most entrepreneurs do, wondering if I’ve done enough. I can only find solace in the fact that my activism in a small part is making space for more people like me in an industry that we are getting systematically shut out of.”

Morris Kelly, founder of SF Roots

SF Roots is one of the first social equity brands in the Bay Area. His products can be found on the Eaze menu in Northern California markets.

“My journey into the legal cannabis industry was built on community, compassion, and culture. Those are the principles that guide SF Roots today. Working with Eaze as a small black-owned business gives us the bandwidth to reach a market that I normally wouldn’t have access to. I’d like to see more black and brown businesses given the opportunity that I’ve been afforded, and I encourage all cannabis consumers to support social equity brands. When you support social equity, you’re not just supporting a company; you’re supporting the community.”

You can learn more about Morris on this episode of the “Hella High” podcast.

Degi Simmons, founder of Cloud9

Degi Simmons, founder of Oakland-based Cloud9, has been involved in cannabis commerce and culture since the earliest days of Proposition 215. Degi partnered with cannabis grower and DJ Clayton Whitaker to form Cloud9 in 2010. Cloud9 flower is available on Eaze menus.

“California has the responsibility, the honor, and the population to be a leader in showing the world what it means to be a balanced, inclusive environment with solutions — instead of the same rhetoric and systemic racism seen in other places. As a longtime resident, I have confidence in the kids I grew up with and the families they are raising to be the solution for the next generation. This gives me the hope that I take with me to the message.

We are all impacted! Racism is like toxic waste…it affects us all, even if we can’t see it. Sometimes it just takes longer for the waste to reach you.

We all should be more mindful and pay attention to the IMPACT on the people and environment we share mentally and physically. Have the hard discussions with people close to you and come with the intent to listen, and then really play your role of support with integrity.

I would like to see people support education!! We all need a better understanding of each other and it starts with the youth. This year has shown us beyond the shadow of a doubt that educators deserve more resources, respect, and support! Start at the beginning and we can solve these problems before they manifest as The Human Race.”

Amber Senter, founder of MAKR House

Below are highlights from our interview with Amber in February.

When did you first, originally, get involved in cannabis?

“I started smoking weed when I was 18 and I immediately noticed what it did for me and my body. I suffer from lupus, which is an inflammatory disease. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 33, so I had no idea what was going on in my body when I was 18, but I was definitely suffering from some symptoms of lupus. I noticed right away that I just felt better.”

What challenges have you faced in the cannabis space?

“It’s going to be different for every person, but for me it was a number of challenges. It’s being a woman in this space. It’s being Black in this space. It’s having to run a business and balance my work and my health in this space. Then you’re asking for money or trying to raise money for this company that’s federally illegal. But at the end of the day, I love cannabis so much for what it’s done for me and my quality of life — and I just want to offer this experience to other people. I have to, I feel like it’s my duty.”

What are you the most proud of?

“I’m really proud that people recognize that the War on Drugs decimated communities, tore apart families, and that lives were lost. I’m really, really proud that people understand that we have a responsibility to fix these things. The way you fix these things is by helping these communities and these folks that dealt with War on Drugs, by reaching down and giving them a hand and pulling them up. I’m really glad that there are people out there that are willing to help and doing it.”

James Victor, co-founder of James Henry SF

James Henry SF is a responsible lifestyle brand that helps consumers select the right products for the right occasions throughout the day, developing and producing products with sustainable community engagement.

Can you tell us about your experience as a black entrepreneur in the cannabis space?

“It’s been incredible. Some days yield wins, other days are just simply opportunities to try it again a different way. This industry is composed of some amazing people who have been there for James Henry since Day 1 and we couldn’t be more appreciative as an organization. That being said, there are ups and downs that I can’t always find the words to express as a Black Man and Entrepreneur in America, let alone the cannabis industry. These current times are certainly a testament to that.

I will admit, I thought that it would be easier because the cannabis industry called out the disparity between the cannabis-related incarcerated population of Black Americans versus the number of Black Entrepreneurs taking advantage of the legal space. Unfortunately, while the municipal and state social equity programs offer some assistance to get businesses up and going, there is a lack of enforcement to ensure that retailers are actually carrying the social equity brands. At the end of the day, James Henry wants to simply exist as a brand that is desired by both retailers and consumers because of our brand value and of their experiences.”

What’s the best way people can support black founders in the cannabis industry?

“We need everybody purchasing our products and if their favorite retailer/delivery doesn’t carry us or they’re outside of our own delivery radii (Bay and LA), we need them asking to talk to buyers/managers about carrying our products. Let your favorite retailers know that you want the James Henry Experience Today! Look out for James Henry’s products coming to Eaze menus soon!”

Are there any organizations you recommend people support?

“Support the Minority Cannabis Business Alliance, Cannaclusive, Make Green Go! + The Hood Incubator in Oakland, The Original Equity Workgroup, the Eaze Momentum Accelerator (Of course, Gearing Up for the 2nd Cohort!), The NuLeaf Project in Oregon, and Students for Medical Marijuana.

Learn more about James Victor and co-founder John Henry on this episode of the “Hella High” podcast. 

Reese Benton, founder of Posh Green Cannabis Boutique

What has your experience been as a Black cannabis entrepreneur?

“My experience of being a black woman and as a black person in the cannabis industry has not always been positive. When I first started out people just didn’t believe in me. When I would go to events people always asked me who I worked for, when I was actually the owner selling their products in my dispensary. This industry was not used to a person that looks like me being the owner.”

What’s the best way for people to support Black cannabis founders?

“For the bigger companies and the bigger brands to support equity we need to continue mentoring, giving grants, carrying equity products, buying black and minority, and collaborating on products.”

Are there any organizations you recommend people support?

“The foundations I would like money to go to are Black Lives Matter Global Network, Reclaim the Block, National Bail Out, Black Visions Collective, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund, Color of Change Education Fund, Unicorn Riot, Campaign Zero, and The Marshall Project.”

Learn more about Reese on this episode of the “Hella High” podcast.

Raeven, Reese, James and Amber all participated in Eaze’s Momentum business accelerator program. 

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