What if all the drug money made in black neighborhoods stayed in black neighborhoods? Even better, what if the people selling the weed in communities of color didn’t have to hide the money? What if they didn’t have to worry about being arrested three times more often than whites? What if the tax revenue for every blunt you smoked went to a local school? That would be so ... (I apologize in advance, but I have to say it) dope.
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Even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department is set to unveil the war on drugs 2.0, legal cannabis is becoming one of the fastest-growing industries in America. It is poised to make billions of dollars and provide jobs to thousands in the next year alone. Yet for all its expected growth, very few people of color have been able to get in on the ground floor.
New Frontier Data—one of the top companies for investment research—issued a recent report that said by 2020, the marijuana industry will create more jobs than the manufacturing industry, utilities, or state and local governments. The industry was worth $7 billion in 2016 and is expected to triple in the next three years.
Yet the weed industry remains dominated by white men. Even though 28 states now have some form of legal pot, a report by BuzzFeed estimates that less than 1 percent of cannabis dispensaries are owned by blacks. Some say it is because of the capital required to get into the industry. (Pennsylvania requires a $10,000 nonrefundable application fee, a $200,000 deposit, proof of $2 million in funding and at least $500,000 in the bank.)
Others say it is because drug policies have unfairly targeted black people (most states require a background check with no drug convictions). Many people cite the fact that the territory is so uncharted, the only way to gain entry is to know someone already in the business, which means white people using other white people as resources.
It’s not as if black people don’t smoke marijuana. It’s not as if black people don’t sell weed. But what if there were a place that could educate the hood on getting into the aboveground pot industry? What if there were some sort of school where you could connect the guys in streets persecuted by unequal justice with business owners, learn about investing and get trained by people with experience? Wouldn’t it be nice if disaffected communities could go somewhere and see what it takes to open their own businesses, learn how to pitch products or even find out how to get a job in the world of weed? The idea of “legal drug money” is the unicorn of street dreams.
Enter the Hood Incubator—a collective founded by three black visionaries who are kicking in the doors to the cannabis industry for people of color. The organization is aimed at helping blacks become entrepreneurs, investors and employees in California’s booming new weed market.
Founded by electoral organizer Lanese Martin, community organizer Biseat Horning and Yale MBA Ebele Ifedigbo, the Hood Incubator has created an all-inclusive model designed to help black and brown people enter every phase of the legal marijuana business. Their plan was to organize people in the San Francisco Bay Area’s underground marijuana trade, educate them, teach them how to get access to funding or invest their own, and create pathways to ownership legally. Founder Ifedigbo tells the story of when they first realized the potential impact:
Growing up on the East Side of Buffalo[, N.Y.], my dad would drive me around and point out the check-cashing shops, the rent-to-own stores, the corner bodegas ... but when we crossed Main Street to go to my friend Sarah’s house, they had everything my father said we needed in our neighborhood. That was when I realized it was about opportunity and access. ... When you look at black business investment, less than 1 percent of venture capital or loans in this country are going to black business owners.
“We liken it to the tech industry,” says Juell Stewart, the Hood Incubator’s director of communications. “There are economic and educational barriers that obstruct people of color from getting in on the ground floor of this industry.”
The Hood Incubator created a network of resources designed to walk anyone interested in the weed industry through the labyrinth of hurdles that people of color may face. They offer legal assistance to help with the licensing process. They have business experts who can offer advice on marketing, sales and financing. Their health clinics educate people on the medical benefits and impact of medical marijuana. They have even partnered with companies to offer apprenticeships for people who may be looking for employment opportunities in the industry.
Aside from those programs, what sets the Hood Incubator apart from other organizations is their business accelerator program. They designed a five-month program that takes a holistic approach to educating participants on everything related to cannabis and business.
They have business owners with direct knowledge of the licensing process. They teach the intricacies of the market. They even have Shark Tank-style pitch meetings where they flesh out the ideas of potential entrepreneurs.
Some of their graduates have gone on to start an edible catering company, open a dispensary and start a delivery service. A group of people who finished the most recent “semester” are set to launch A+ Collective—a medical-marijuana collective in the Bay Area.
Aside from business owners, the Hood Incubator also pairs students with businesses as apprentices in the industry. Jetty Extracts, one of the leading producers of cannabis extracts in California, has an apprentice from the Hood Incubator who is getting hands-on, firsthand knowledge of the business.
“Our apprenticeship basically teaches every aspect of the cannabis extraction business,” says Ron Gershoni of Jetty Extracts. “They work in a lab environment. They learn to operate all of our equipment. They learn every step, from raw material to a finished product. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get access for people who normally wouldn’t have access.
“The marijuana world can be very exclusionary. Even though it is a progressive industry, a lot of owners tend to hire people they already know because of the nature of the business. So if you don’t have capital, real estate or connections, it is possible that a lot of people get shut out,” Gershoni adds. “That’s why we thought the work that the Hood Incubator is doing was remarkable and it was important for us to get involved.”
The ultimate goal of the Hood Incubator is to create a collective of minority marijuana investors who can invest in every aspect. “We envision a model where a pool of minorities can fund growers; manufacturers—whether it’s tinctures, oils or edibles; suppliers; and dispensaries,” Stewart says. “We want to see a day when we have a group of people who invest in the entire cannabis industry.”
California has the sixth-largest economy in the world. If it were a country, its gross domestic product would be higher than those of France, Italy and even Canada. In January 2018, for the first time, the state will allow marijuana to be used recreationally. Although medical marijuana is already legal, the fact that anyone over the age of 21 can buy a joint just as easily as they buy a beer will mean hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Why should it all go to white guys? Can the hood get some of that?
Maybe we can, if the folks at the Hood Incubator have their say.
Learn more about the Hood Incubator in the video below: