Equity for POC founders

Building Social Responsibility Into a New Cannabis Business

"I can’t help but wonder who is shaping the future of this burgeoning industry—especially as the war on drugs still targets so many people who share my lived experience as a queer, Black woman."

Earlier this spring, I walked into a house that looked like it belonged in a Brothers Grimm fairytale.

Situated at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, CO, the interior revealed glass shelves lined with tinctures, mints, gummies, and countless strains of cannabis flower. I purchased a box of CBD mints, and as I walked out a man sitting outside lit up a pre-rolled joint. Everything about the experience felt normal—like any other purchase I’d made before.

We’re living in a cannabis renaissance. Within a span of just five years, this country has gone from policing cannabis to cannabis companies popping up in every sector imaginable. From breath spray to menstrual cramp salves, there is now a cannabis product for just about everything, and it makes sense: there is a lot of money to be made in the booming industry. And yet, I can’t help but wonder who is shaping the future of this burgeoning sector—especially as the war on drugs still targets so many people who share my lived experience as a queer, Black woman.

Just as it felt surreal to walk into that house at the base of the mountains and hand over my money in exchange for my legal cannabis product, looking around at the homogeneity of this nascent landscape is already a reason for concern.

According to recent studies, the U.S. cannabis market is projected to be worth around $26 billion by 2025. With more states joining the push to legalize both medicinal and recreational cannabis, it makes sense for businesses to want to get in on the action. But the question of who can enter this space remains an important topic that needs more visibility.

And yet, I can’t help but wonder who is shaping the future of this burgeoning industry—especially as the war on drugs still targets so many people who share my lived experience as a queer, Black woman.

The legal red tape and hurdles facing would-be entrepreneurs interested in launching a cannabis venture have already placed familiar barriers around the space. The so-called “green rush” is only a goldmine for those with access and the continued disenfranchisement of underrepresented groups becomes increasingly apparent as the industry expands.

As with most industries, those with enough upfront capital and social mobility to successfully launch a cannabis venture are dominating this nascent sector. In spite of this, there are a number of people of color (POC) building equitable cannabis businesses. I spoke to three Black founders about what building a sustainable, socially responsible cannabis venture can look like.


Chaney Turner, National Co-founder of The People’s Dispensary, Oakland, CA

The People’s Dispensary provides high-quality cannabis products and expertise. Currently located in Oakland, CA and Portland, OR, equity is at the core of their business and values. They commit 10% of their net profits to local community reinvestment funds and believe that the cannabis industry is a change catalyst for empowerment.

What made you enter the industry now, and what impact are you hoping to have?

It’s important not only for me but for Black people, in general, to be involved in the cannabis industry. Whether it’s ownership, activism or both. We cannot allow this industry to be completely run by white men. It is important that we’re involved in this industry for our survival.

Right now, housing is a big issue in Oakland as Black people and POC are being pushed out due to gentrification. I believe cannabis can combat displacement and homelessness [and that] cities should use tax money generated from cannabis to invest in affordable housing. The People’s Dispensary has our own equity framework which includes providing affordable housing for employees.

How can new cannabis brands focus on social impact and social responsibility?

If brands aren’t coming from a place of integrity and sincerity, then they’re not making an impact. Currently, you have corporations who are using movements and Black trauma to drive sales. Companies make commercials featuring Black entertainers, dispensaries have Black Lives Matters sign in their windows, but how many POC, Women and LGBT people do they have in positions of power? Are they investing in communities of color and other marginalized communities? If new brands want to be socially responsible they need to [build] equity into their model.

"We cannot allow this industry to be completely run by white men. It is important that we’re involved in this industry for our survival."

How have your experiences as a woman of color influenced the way you’re building your business? What advice do you have for others?

My experiences have taught me to stay resilient. I would suggest starting a business in a field that you’re passionate about. If you have no experience in retail then maybe a dispensary isn’t the right business to start. There are plenty of job creation opportunities, find out how you can transition your skills over to the cannabis industry.

What advice do you have for investors interested in backing cannabis ventures?

Find a company that you believe in. Break the cycle of investing in corporations. Look for small, innovative businesses that not only will bring you a great return but will also create social impact and change. This is the time to be on the right side of history and to build generational wealth for those who have been left out.


Photos: Didem Civginoglu

Solonje Burnett, Co-Founder and Cannavist at Humble Bloom, Brooklyn, NY

Humble Bloom is curating the culture of cannabis, breaking stigma, and elevating cannabis brands with integrity. By partnering with thought leaders and experts, consulting with growing brands, and connecting diverse communities through plant education, advocacy and inclusion is at the root of all that they do.

What made you enter the industry now, and what impact are you hoping to have?

I entered because I love the plant, wanted to be my own boss, and thought it would be smart to create a product in a growing industry. Immediately upon entering, our focus shifted to community building and education. What most know about cannabis is based on deliberate misinformation.

As a first generation Carribean-American woman, I feel it’s my duty to advocate for an equitable, fair, and regenerative industry. I will always use my voice to make sure we don’t end up in a monopoly situation where we’re stuck with only a couple big players controlling all.

How are you educating people about conscious consumerism?

We are educating through our speaking engagements, panel discussions, and immersive experiences. We have residencies at The William Vale and the Assemblage where we [curate] opportunities for attendees to learn by listening, questioning, and doing.

That can look like a discussion on cannabis as an agricultural crop, a brand activation that includes dosing, making your own product to take away, or a heart-opening tea ceremony with meditation. We take groups on field trips bridging the gap between urban and rural as well as connecting people more deeply with the plant and each other. We lead with collaboration and the intention that we’re all connected.

How can new cannabis brands focus on social impact and social responsibility?

Build it into your DNA. There are brands doing the right thing by having diverse leadership, hiring those who’ve been in the system for a drug offense. [Brands] whose packaging is sustainable and that don’t have additives that cause illness or farming practices heal rather than hurt our environment.

Don’t make social impact or corporate social responsibility an afterthought. We have so many examples from major corporations [like] Patagonia to innovative cannabiz models like the People’s Dispensary. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Take inspiration from brands like these and put your spin on it.

How have your experiences as a woman of color influenced the way you’re building your business? What advice do you have for others?

Jump in. There are so many avenues and pathways to cannabis, and not all are in making products, running a farm, or dispensary. Take your skillset and bring it over here to make sure we have a wide variety of voices in the conversation. We need people from all backgrounds to make this unlike any industry before it.

You can start your own ancillary business and by not being plant touching it is a lot less expensive. You also won’t go through the regulatory insecurities. Do your homework, get involved in organizations, meet and set informational conversations with people already in the industry. Find your allies and co-conspirators who will advocate and support you along the way.

"I feel it’s my duty to advocate for an equitable, fair, and regenerative industry."

What advice do you have for investors interested in backing cannabis ventures?

Support those who don’t look like you. Let’s flip the paradigm. Make womxn, POC (specifically Black and Brown populations) LGBTQAI+, the differently abled, and those impacted by structural inequities a priority and move them to the front of the line. Get out of your circle of sameness to allow for true innovation in cannabis.


Amber Senter, CEO and Executive Director, Co-founder, Supernova Women and Leisure Life, Oakland, CA

Supernova Women is an organization formed by and for women of color with the goal of utilizing empowering people of color to become self sufficient shareholders in the evolving cannabis economy.

Why was it important for you to enter the industry now, and what impact are you hoping to have?

I started blogging about cannabis in 2009, [and] I've been around the cannabis industry for a while. I moved to California for a sales and marketing job with an edibles company in February of 2014. I have been a proponent of the normalization of cannabis since I started smoking in 1999.

As cannabis continues to be legalized and normalized it is important for Black and Brown people to be afforded the opportunity to participate in an industry that was built off the backs of their communities terrorized by the war on drugs.

How have your experiences as a woman of color influenced the way you’re building your business? What advice do you have for others?

My team is almost entirely people of color, from the investors to my staff. I have been intentional in striving to build a diverse business and working to give those in my community opportunities that will help to benefit everyone collectively.

The cannabis industry is not an easy space to operate in, it is currently not being built for us. It’s critical that we participate and advocate on behalf of our communities now as we can help to mold what this industry should look like. Crafting legalization legislation that is inclusive of communities damaged by the war on drugs is critical.

The regulated cannabis industry is only two years old in California, and there is so much potential to shape it how we want. It is not an easy task, as most things that are worth the hard work aren’t. We will encounter resistance. Participation in the cannabis industry as an underrepresented group requires perseverance and grit.

How can businesses use their platform and privileges to advance cannabis equity?

Support equity businesses by working with social equity companies. Work with groups that organize expungement clinics and help them put on events. Support local community organizations that offer resources and training to the community involving the cannabis industry.

"Crafting legalization legislation that is inclusive of communities damaged by the war on drugs is critical."

How can new cannabis brands focus on social impact and social responsibility?

New brands can start by supporting local organizations that are already boots on the ground doing work in the community and asking those organizations how they can help. Getting active and being proactive is important.

What advice do you have for investors interested in backing cannabis ventures?

Do your research and due diligence. Get on the ground and get to know the founders and the operations. The cost of compliance is high and those that spend the most won't win in this industry. This is a margins game. The path and pace are a marathon.

Cannabis legalization has opened up endless entrepreneurial opportunities.

Who are some of your favorite cannabis brands or trends? Join the conversation on Twitter!

-Ash Baccus-Clark