Whether it’s opening a dispensary, starting a unique line of strains and products, or infusing cannabis culture into mainstream society in new and unusual ways, we thought it fitting to honor Black History Month by celebrating 20 African American cannabis entrepreneurs who are pioneers in the pot industry. Remember these names, as they’ll likely be making a huge impact within the industry — if they haven’t already.
You don’t often hear the mention of cannabis on talk shows, but Oren Lomena, host of The Graux, mixes in sports, cooking, and weed in an attempt to make cannabis conversations a part of normal life. It helps when your sibling is a correspondent for MSNBC, too. Lomena’s resume of cannabis activity is long, making him an ideal person to take this leap.
Not only does Jesce Horton own and manage a high-end growing operation in Portland, OR, but until recently he also acted as the director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. The group’s mission is to increase diversity within the industry, yet as his plants at Panacea Valley Gardens began to gain more and more attention, he stepped down from the MCBA to spend more time with his family.
Tsion Sunshine Lencho
A background as an attorney has served Tsion Sunshine Lencho well, as she co-founded Supernova Women in 2015. A networking platform for women of color who are looking to break into the industry, Lencho’s organization offers a variety of workshops and advocates for ex-offenders who are going through the process of rehabilitation.
Snoop has been a cannabis advocate for as long as anyone can remember. You may be familiar with his line of strains. Leafs by Snoop, which is currently involved in a lawsuit with the Toronto Maple Leafs over his logo. He also launched Merry Jane, a digital cannabis resource.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable names in the cannabis industry, Charlo Greene revealed that she was the owner of a cannabis club in Alaska while also quitting her job on the air. She now hosts The Weed Show, an online resource where she shares interesting ways to incorporate marijuana into your daily life. Greene initially faced decades in prison but has since had all charges dropped.
Infusing cannabis into fine cuisine is no small feat, and chef Miguel Trinidad does so with an exceptional level of skill. His underground and invite-only eatery, 99th Floor, features five courses of food that’s simply out of this world. He’s also expanded his cannabis ventures to create a line of edibles found in select California dispensaries.
Business ventures and a passion for art have come together in the cannabis world for Erik Range, Board Chair of Minorities for Medical Marijuana and co-founder of ART 420. Using cannabis-inspired art with a traveling business model, Range can communicate just how normal, and beautiful, cannabis can be for all.
You may recognize Al Harrington from the NBA, but this former player has made a major career change in what many would say is the right direction. Together with Daniel Pettigrew, he’s co-founded Viola Extracts, one of the nation’s top medical marijuana companies. Inspired by his own grandmother Viola’s battle with glaucoma, Harrington works hard to spread the message of just how effective cannabis can be in a pharmaceutical setting.
Dr. Rachel Knox & Dr. Jessica Knox
We know, technically there are two people listed here, but the Knox family includes four doctors, all of whom counsel patients on the uses of medical marijuana from their Oregon-based clinic. The Canna MDs as they’re called take a therapeutic approach to the plant and educate patients about how it can enhance their health and overall well-being.
Aside from her stellar career in Hollywood, Whoopi Goldberg is committed to making waves in another big way – by manufacturing cannabis products designed to help women with their monthly cycle. She’s partnered with Maya Elisabeth, founder of Om Edibles, to supply California and Colorado with soaks, rubs, edibles, and more. Launched in 2016, Whoopi & Maya has since become one of the biggest brands on the market.
Owner of District Growers in Washington DC, Corey takes a community approach to his cannabis cultivation. The team partners with other businesses in the area and provides individuals with ha igh-quality medical product. Pre-rolls, infused teas, and uncommon edibles like granola bars all make up half of their offerings, while others turn to Barnette for expertly grown flower.
Cannabis use is still heavily stigmatized even in urban areas across the United States, but Andrea Unsworth is dedicated to changing that through her collective named StashTwist. A non-profit and woman-operated business in the East Bay of California, their products include topicals, oils, vape pens, and more.
The cannabis industry is still relatively new in the grand scheme of things, and entrepreneurs don’t always know where to begin. That’s where Shanita Penny comes in with her consulting firm Budding Solutions. Based in Baltimore, MD, she offers services that include product development, branding assistance, help with applications, and much more.
Named the 2018 Cannabis Industry Organization of the Year, the group at Minorities for Medical Marijuana have made huge strides thanks to founder and CEO Roz McCarthy. The team offers advocacy, training, and education to communities across the nation. To date, they have 23 chapters in the US and run their operations in Orlando, Florida. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, McCarthy was included in the High Times 100 Most Influential People in the Cannabis Industry during 2018.
To be the first at something is pretty special, and together with business partner Scott Durrah, Wanda James was the first black woman to own a dispensary in Denver, CO. With a name like Simply Pure, the group obviously focuses on high-quality cannabis and creates organic edibles, concentrates, and CBD oils.
Hope may be a part of a hugely popular entertainment television show, WAGS Atlanta, but her talents aren’t limited only to the big screen. She’s also the owner of Mary & Main, a dispensary in Prince George’s County, Maryland. It doesn’t sound that impressive, until you learn that she’s only 25, making her the youngest dispensary owner in the United States.
Khalifa is just one of a dozen celebrities to jump on the cannabis bandwagon as he’s developed his own line of weed in conjunction with RiverRock Cannabis. The Colorado-based dispensary released the line-up on 4/20, and includes flower and concentrates that Khalifa said took years to perfect. It’s rumored that the strains are modeled after effects that the rapper himself prefers.
A one-woman powerhouse in the marijuana world, Adams initially founded Marijuana Investment & Private Retreat and has since moved to C.E. HUTTON, a firm specializing in business strategy for a range of cannabis organizations. She’s deeply ingrained in the industry and with decades of experience is often one of the first people that entrepreneurs will turn to for help.
Business owners don’t always have the time to attend seminars or make appointments with consulting firms, but Comfy Tree is changing that thanks to Tiffany Bowden’s revolutionary ideas. She’s created a series of e-learning courses that are tailored to each individual’s sector, offering valuable information that’s easily accessible.
Elevating the cannabis experience is a huge focus of the industry, as the desire to completely banish typical stoner stereotypes is strong. Through Apothecarry, owner Whitney Beatty offers some of the most luxurious and discrete cannabis products the market has ever seen, encouraging cannabis users to break free from being a “smoker” and instead become a “conscious consumer.”
The Highly Anticipated Collab Between Bllrdr x G Pen Has Dropped
G Pen has partnered with Bllrdr to introduce a new collaboration, an exclusive co-branded global line of G Pen advanced technology vaporizers, starting with the Bllrdr x G Pen Dash.
This collab integrates new cannabis products from Bllrdr with G Pen’s proprietary innovative technologies and hardware, to make for even more brand diversity of the popular G Pen vaporizers.
Helping to both elevate and advance the cannabis experience, the two companies have a shared history of innovation, something that is set to continue with each brand to bring sought-after collaborations to the market.
Bllrdr is a Toronto-based cannabis brand founded by Noah “40” Shebib, a Grammy award-winning producer, and Jef Tek, a legendary cultivator. The brand is known for its extensive market-leading cannabis genetics and small-batch production, developing rare and special cut strains.
After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Shebib discovered the benefits of using the Afghani Bullrider cultivar. Tek’s late wife, medical marijuana activist Michelle Rainey, who suffered from Crohn’s disease and cancer, also found the strain offered relief from her symptoms.
G Pen, known for championing and celebrating the connection between consumption and art, is thrilled to partner with Bllrdr, Canada’s best new lifestyle cannabis brand, supporting its people and their mission.
“I’ve known Noah since the early stages of G Pen,” says G Pen CEO and founder Chris Folkerts, “and this partnership brings it full circle.”
“It’s an honor to be a part of the launch of the most highly-anticipated and unique genetics in the Ontario market.”
Now, the two brands plan to bring sought-after collaborations to the market increasing the brand diversity of the popular G Pen vaporizers by integrating new cannabis products from Bllrdr with G Pen’s proprietary innovative technologies and hardware.
This first release from the G Pen x Bllrdr Collection is well-timed, with the launch of Bllrdr’s highly anticipated Afghani Bullrider strain — considered as one of the rarest genetics on the market — now officially available on the Ontario Cannabis Store. And just like Afghani Bullrider, the Bllrdr x G Pen Dash delivers satisfying and flavorful results.
The Bllrdr x G Pen Dash is now available in select Ontario retailers and on bllrdrco.co.
5 Tips for Owning and Operating Successful Cannabis Dispensaries
The cannabis retail landscape has changed. Once regarded as somewhat of a novelty, legalization has allowed cannabis dispensaries to evolve into modern and innovative retail storefronts more akin to an Apple Store than the dark, secretive spaces they used to be. Some, like Shiny Bud, are proving to be leaders in the space, setting an exemplary standard of a contemporary cannabis retail experience.
Shiny Bud is one of Canada’s most successful dispensary chains. They pride themselves on offering customers a premium experience from the moment they enter, from a contemporary and inviting store design to highly trained staff, and of course, premium products.
Co-founder Alex Ledesma joined the cannabis industry when the Canadian government passed the Cannabis Act in 2018. She comes from a forward-thinking family of entrepreneurs, so the move to cannabis was an obvious next step.
“I saw an opportunity to be part of something big in Canada’s history, so we started following the industry, and applied for an application,” said Ledesma.
Shiny Bud opened its first dispensary in Toronto on February 14. Fast forward only a few months, and the company has opened the doors to its fifth location in a small town called Orleans, just outside of Ottawa.
“We have a pretty aggressive rollout,” said Ledesma. “Coming from a quick-service industry, we’re quite comfortable with builds and finding locations. We took our expertise from that and put it into cannabis. And it’s all completely within the family.”
Shiny Bud was awarded 75 dispensary licenses by the Canadian government. The company’s expansion plans include two more Ontario store openings this year, bringing the total number of store openings to seven. And they have no plans to slow down.
“We should be hitting 30 stores by the end of 2021. And we’re planning on maxing out to 75 stores allocated. When we stop to think about it, it can take our breath away.”
The constant march forward of legalization has created an ever-growing interest in dispensary ownership. Below, Ledesma offers up five pieces of advice for those looking to enter the cannabis game.
1. Have a Well-Trained Team That’s Focused on Customer Experience
As the industry is still so young, formal education in cannabis is still relatively scarce amongst prospective employees. For Shiny Bud, this presents an opportunity to reinforce one of their most important business objectives: provide cannabis education and training for their budtenders to pass on to their customers.
“Education is everything because the industry’s so new,” Ledesma said. “We truly believe that we’re an industry where we need to listen to our guests. This is one of the first things we teach our budtenders, along with providing a safe and educational experience for our customers in-store.”
For many customers, the biggest value in going to a dispensary is learning which products are best suited for a specific condition or effect, whether they’re seasoned cannabis consumers or newly curious.
“The goal for budtenders at Shiny Bud is to ensure customers are choosing the right product for them to provide a safe experience both in-store and at home,” Ledesma said.
2. Create a Guest Centric Environment
This goes without saying, but customer service is critical to the success of any retail operation. Ledesma attributes Shiny Bud’s success to the brand’s core vision of providing a “fast and friendly cannabis retail destination.”
“We strive to offer our customers a unique and memorable experience — this has stayed with us since day one,” Ledesma said. “When you walk into any of our Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries, they’re bright, they’re big, and there’s a lot of education. The budtenders are dressed uniformly, and there’s personality — it’s not what people expect.”
Watching the change in customer demographic has been encouraging to Ledesma, who notes the increase in the 60+ demographic looking to add cannabis to their health and wellness, whether it be recreational, or to aid with a specific ailment.
“As a disclaimer, we always have to tell them that we’re not doctors and we can’t give them medical advice, so to start low and go slow,” Ledesma said. “It’s nice to see people like my mom, my dad, and grandparents come through the door, because you also know you’re helping break down the stigma.”
3. Stock the Best Inventory
With so many quality products now available, choosing which ones to bring to Shiny Bud is quite a lengthy process.
“We carry out a lot of research in terms of what’s new or trending, and what our customers are looking for in each location,” Ledesma said. “I wish I knew consumers’ buying preferences before our initial order was placed. We ended up buying too much!”
“We also use recommendations from our team members, our budtenders, and our customers. A lot of times we bring in representatives of the licensed producers to educate our budtenders about the products we’re selling.”
The three most popular purchases across three Shiny Bud locations are dried flower, vapes, and pre-rolls. “Our most frequently asked question is, ‘what is your highest THC or CBD?’” Ledesma said.
4. Have a Great Location
The age-old proverb of “location, location, location” rings true in the cannabis industry, too. Finding the right real estate is arguably the most important part of retail success. Plus, because of the industry’s prohibition history and the nature of the products being sold, it’s important to find understanding landlords.
“Initially, landlords have said to us, ‘absolutely not, we will not entertain the idea of having a cannabis retailer here,’ so I invite them to take a look at one of our dispensaries so they can see the vision of what and who we are as a company and as an industry.”
5. Ensure Your Cannabis Dispensaries Connect with the Community
Dispensaries are already major focal points in their communities. For Ledesma, giving back and helping break down old stigmas related to cannabis is a top priority.
Shiny Bud is in the process of launching a collaboration with Tsaichedelic to create a line of tie-dyed tees and other merchandise. The proceeds will go towards supporting Cannabis Amnesty projects, like providing legal counsel to get those with criminal records over minor cannabis charges expunged.
“Being a woman and a person of color in the cannabis space, I really believe in the fact that it needs to be the same playing fields for everybody,” Ledesma said. “Teaming up with Cannabis Amnesty just felt right.”
With the regulated cannabis market still so new, it’s important that business owners are able to adapt to changes and weather the ever-changing landscape of cannabis and the regulations.
“It’s ever-changing, so we’re constantly learning and growing from it,” Ledesma said. “Regulations are always changing, so being fluid helps a lot.”
Look for Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries in Canada and keep an eye out for their expansion into America in 2021.
Gwyneth Paltrow and a Slew of Celebs Invest in ‘Social Tonic’ Brand, Cann
Gwyneth Paltrow is one of several high-profile celebrities investing in cannabis-infused beverage company, Cann.
Rebel Wilson, Ruby Rose, Darren Criss, Tove Lo, Casey Neistat, former NBA star Baron Davis and Bre-Z have also invested in the company.
The actress and Goop CEO and founder calls cannabis a “hero ingredient of the future” for wellness and says she was drawn to Cann’s drinks, which are infused with small doses of THC and CBD, as an appealing alternative to alcohol.
“There’s a whole sober-curious movement that’s going on and the cannabis-curious movement that’s going on, this is kind of at the intersection of those things in a way,” said Paltrow.
Cann is not the health and wellness moguls’ first cannabis investment. Paltrow admitted that while she’s not a big cannabis user personally, she acknowledges its “amazing medicinal qualities.”
“There’s no reason why alcohol should be so much easier to purchase than Cann, and I’m confident the founders will lead the charge in finding ways to integrate it into the same purchasing channels and drinking environments,” she said via a news release.
Cann founder Luke Anderson called the comments made by Gwyneth Paltrow “a sign that Cann (and microdose beverages more broadly) are a viable answer to that very common consumer pain point.”
He added that when people think of Paltrow, “they don’t think of ‘weed’ – they think of cutting-edge solutions for today’s health and wellness needs.”
Cann has positioned itself as a “healthy” and hangover-free alternative to alcohol. Most of Cann’s “social tonics” contain roughly 30 calories and are “microdosed” with 2 milligrams of THC and 4 milligrams of CBD. A recently introduced Pineapple Jalapeño flavor contains 50 calories and 5 milligrams of THC.
Earlier this year, Cann secured $5 million in funding as part of the company’s 2020 production and distribution expansion plans for 2020.
According to TechCrunch, the beverage startup has sold 150,000 cans, which retail for $4 each, since last May. Cann products are available at just 60 dispensaries in California, and online via the Eaze cannabis marketplace, making the $600,000 in revenue the company generated in less than a year even more impressive.