Like many cannabis entrepreneurs, Carlton Williams’ career began in the illegal sector. But in 2014, the Oakland native launched New Life CA, a socially conscious cannabis brand focused on uplifting local urban communities that have been negatively impacted by the war on drugs. As a vertically integrated company with operations in Oakland and Fresno, they not only distribute and sell cannabis products, they also cultivate and farm the plant. As a member of the inaugural class of Eaze’s Momentum program, Carlton Williams will receive $50K to help grow and develop New Life CA and turn it into a formidable force in the legal cannabis industry.
Tell me a little bit about where you grew up and what your childhood looked like.
I grew up in Oakland, California, District 6. My childhood was different. I moved from place to place a lot. My mother was on drugs. She was murdered when I was eight, and found in a park. At the time my dad was in prison on drug charges, so I moved from family member to family member. I eventually became a ward of the state. From there, I went into a youth program and came out and here I am.
How did you originally get involved with cannabis?
I originally got involved in cannabis under PROP 215. We started New Life Medical Collective — me and [my co-founder] Michael Allen — back in 2014
What about before that? Did you smoke weed in high school?
Weed has always been a part of my life growing up. My first experience with weed was picking up a roach clip with a roach in it out of the ashtray as a kid. From there I started smoking cannabis — I think I was around 10. My cousin put the joint to my mouth, and I hit it. So ever since then it has been a part of my life, throughout high school, just kind of throughout life on and off.
You had what sounds like a tough upbringing.
Cannabis was always a reason or a cause for the police to harass us. I remember times just standing on a corner, or walking on my way to school or the way home, and the police would just pull up. They smell weed and you’re in the back of the police car. They didn’t necessarily take you to jail all the time either. There were times where they just ride you around in the back of the car. They’ll take us to the cafeteria at school or drop you off all the way on the other side of town. There was just a lot of harassment that came with smoking in those days.
What did the process of legalizing your business look like, and what was the hardest part about the process? Was it funding? Was it getting the actual business aspects through?
In 2014, when we started under the PROP 215, the collective model, the process was fairly simple compared to now. We pretty much just declared ourselves a collective, went to the Secretary of the State, filed for a seller’s permit, and started to use the terminology. Instead of calling it weed, we would have to say flower. Instead of calling them customers, we’d have to say patients.
I think one of the hardest parts was that because it was under a patient-to-patient model, you couldn’t really grow as a company, as a business. We couldn’t franchise or we couldn’t have just completely open business practices under the collective model.
What does your future look like now that you’re part of the Momentum program?
Being part of the Momentum program, our future looks bright. We’ve already reached 100% capacity. Just the stipend alone is big, and helping us get a new location for us to grow, expand our grow, beef our production. It’s great.
What are you most proud of today?
I’m most proud of my resilience and I’m most proud of the fact that I just believed in myself. There were a lot of scary moments and I’m always scared. There’s a lot of times where I’m not really confident, or I’m nervous about things, or we get a lot of chatter of equity. In the beginning it was the equity program’s not going to make it, you’re going to fail. They’re not business savvy enough. They don’t have the funds, they don’t have the education. So, I’m really glad that I didn’t allow that to govern me and the direction that we decided to move in.