Amber Senter began her journey in the cannabis industry as a medical patient. She used cannabis to cope with the symptoms of her Lupus. But then she moved to Oakland, CA, where she eventually founded Breeze Distro, a distributor of high quality cannabis products, as well as SuperNova Women, an advocacy group that provides spaces and resources to women of color in the cannabis industry. As a member of Momentum‘s inaugural class, she spoke to Eaze about the path that brought her here today — and where she intends to go.
Tell me a little bit about your childhood — where you grew up, what your family was like.
I grew up in a little town called Zion, Illinois. It’s right on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin. I grew up in a single parent home. My mom raised me, my brother, and my sister. The town that I’m from is an interesting place, very Midwestern, but it also has its fair share of issues with over policing and poverty. It’s a very blue collar kind of town.
When did you first, originally, get involved in cannabis?
My first foray into the plant? 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. I feel awesome, I feel normal, and I immediately became a daily smoker.
I was diagnosed when I was 33 years old, on Halloween of 2013, with lupus. I made a post on Facebook saying that I had been diagnosed and a friend that lived here in California who had an edibles company reached out to me and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about working in cannabis? Like moving to California and working in cannabis?” I said, “Well, of course I thought about it, but how do I do this?” He says, “Well, why don’t you just come out here and check it out?” Three weeks later, I was on a plane coming out, flying out to Oakland to work at his edibles company.
What was the hardest part about the process of starting your own company? Was it the funding? Was it the business aspect? What was difficult about getting up and running as a legitimate business?
All of it. Where do you start? It’s so overwhelming that you don’t even really know where to start. I just started writing stuff down, all kinds of ideas. I go back and look at my old notebooks and they look crazy. But they’re so awesome to look at because all of these things ended up turning into real things. It was about getting the whole vision on paper. When you can turn it into something, that’s when you can start going around and pitching it to people and getting their feedback and then you create prototypes and then you start asking for money.
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 does it mean for you to be a part of the Momentum program?
This is big, this is huge for me. I really want this program to be successful for not just my cohort but the others that come behind me. I want to set a really, really great example for Eaze so that this program can continue. I see this as a huge responsibility for me — to help others in the cohort so that we can help the next cohort. Fifty grand might not seem a lot to some of these larger companies, but this is going to allow me to hire a full-time employee so that I’m not in there doing the production with my business partner. That’s going to allow us to scale our business.It’s going to allow us to buy some equipment. That is huge for us.
This is $50,000 that we can spend [solely] on our business. We don’t have to [give up] pieces of our company. It’s not just the money. I’m going to be paired up with someone who is going to help me perfect my pitch. I’m going to be paired up with someone that’s going to help me with distribution. So just knowing that I have the support of someone that’s going to help me strategically scale my business is immense.
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.