One Black Woman’s Journey to Becoming One of California’s Newest Cannabis Dispensary Owners

Amber Senter
Amber Senter
Photo: Greenmarket Report (Amber Senter)

Editor’s note: This story—part of the Journey to Licensure series, which chronicles the experiences of female “ganjapreneurs” as they travel the complex terrain of California’s new recreational regulationswas previously published on EstroHaze, a multimedia company highlighting the business and lifestyles of multicultural women in the cannabis industry. 


This installment of our Journey to Licensure series is brought to you by equity advocate and ganjapreneur extraordinaire Amber Senter. The founder of Leisure Life and co-founder of Supernova Women was recently awarded a highly coveted dispensary license in the city of Oakland, Calif. It was truly the luck of the draw, as the selection was made by lottery, but Senter and her associates are employing hard work and expertise to become a force within Oakland’s rapidly expanding greenscape.

Not only is Senter a successful businesswoman, but she is also a staunch equity advocate within the cannabis industry. EstroHaze was privileged to converse with Senter once again, this time discussing her experience with the arduous process of local dispensary licensing.

She and her equity applicant partner have a 90-day window to complete the steps necessary to receive local approval and obtain a state license—the ultimate green light to get their dispensary up and running.

You and your equity partner were awarded a dispensary license on Jan 31. Please, tell us more about that process.

The lottery was only available to equity applicants that were applying for a dispensary in Oakland. The way the equity program works, as far as dispensaries are concerned, is that the equity applicant must own at least 50 percent of the business. Essentially, it’s a 50-50 partnership between the equity applicant and the other partner, which, in this case, was me.

I found an equity partner named Marshall Crosby. We applied for a dispensary license and submitted all documentation to the city of Oakland. They review the applications received in the open enrollment process and weed out all ineligible applications. From this final pool of equity applicants, the lottery was created.

A bunch of numbered pingpong balls were placed in a tumbler. All of the equity applicants were assigned corresponding numbers. They mixed the tumbler and pulled 38 numbers out. The four remaining numbers were the winners, and one of them happen to be ours.


That must’ve been an unreal experience. What was the cultural breakdown of the other winners?

Of the four equity winners, three were black and one was Chinese. Of the general pool, there was one winner of color. Currently, there’s only one black dispensary owner in Oakland: Keith Stephenson of the Purple Heart Patient Center. He wasn’t just the first black owner, but the first dispensary owner in the entire city. Eventually, seven more dispensaries were added, but none of them were run by people of color. I’m really glad the equity program is bringing POC back into ownership.


Were you eligible to apply for equity status?

No. The way the equity program works in Oakland is that you have to reside within one of the specified police beats that was disproportionately affected by the war on drugs for 10 of the last 20 years, or you have to have a previous cannabis conviction in Oakland. I’m not from Oakland, I am from Chicago, and I have never had a cannabis conviction.


Now that you’ve won the license to operate your own dispensary, what’s next?

Well, there are a lot of things happening right now. The city of Oakland awarded four equity applicants and four general applicants dispensary licenses. They’re actually temporary licenses right now, because in order to receive an actual license, you have to secure a building and go through a public hearing process.


We all have 90 days (the city will give you an extension if needed) to go and find a building. And within the 90 days, we all must show a letter of intent, a deed, or a lease, basically authorization from the landlord or proof that we own the building. Getting a dispensary is a process. Not only do you have to find a location that’s going to work monetarily, you have to determine if it’s going to have enough foot traffic, adequate parking, and be conveniently located.

You have to have the funding to get the place locked down and everything, plus you’ve got the challenge of getting the neighborhood on your side because when you have a public hearing and haven’t done your due diligence in the neighborhood (meaning you haven’t gone out to meet the neighbors in the district, gotten their feedback and come to certain agreements), they can come out in full force and shut you down. This is something that happens extensively. There are a number of things at play in this process. It’s definitely huge that we won, but now it’s time to get to work.


To read the rest of this story, go to EstroHaze.