Systemic racism affects every aspect of life in America for people of color, especially those that want to own their own business. Now, a groundbreaking non-profit out of Oakland, California has set out to help people of color break into the notoriously white cannabis industry.
Correcting Past Mistakes
As recently as 2015, black residents in Oakland were arrested nearly 20 times more often than the white residents there for crimes related to cannabis. Insofar as the legal marijuana industry is concerned, less than 5 percent of cannabis businesses nationwide are black-founded.
In Oakland, out of all the permits issued in the area, there is only one black dispensary owner.
Ebele Ifedigbo and Lanese Martin decided those statistics were unacceptable and the status quo needed to change, so the business school graduates set out to do just that.
The Hood Incubator
Ifedigbo and Martin teamed up and founded The Hood Incubator. The pair sees the non-profit not only as an opportunity to teach local “black and brown people to start their own legal cannabis companies,” but also, “as a way to correct the injustices of the war on drugs launched in the early 1970’s.”
“The cannabis industry has an opportunity to make equity a core component of the industry’s DNA,” said Ifedigbo. “Other industries have generally seen social impact [initiatives] as an afterthought.”
The city of Oakland was already looking at solutions on how to use the new cannabis regulations to help African American and Latino residents find work more profitable than the typical “security guard in the parking lot” type jobs available currently.
The city decided last year to create the nation’s first program where at least half of the new cannabis permits released will now go to residents who were targets in the war on drugs. Ifedigbo and Martin realized right away that without proper training, a lot of those new permit holders would be doomed to fail, and The Hood Incubator was born.
“It didn’t make sense to work just on policy but not have anyone pipelines in to be ready [to benefit from that policy],” said Martin. “It made sense to tackle all of it.”
The pair decided to run a four-month-long program with twice a week “boot camp” style classes to train interested residents. The courses cover everything from reading financial statements to how to prepare a snappy presentation to snag interested investors.
To qualify as an “equity applicant” and receive one of those permits, there are a few requirements. First, applicants must make less than 80 percent of the city’s median income which in 2016 was $53,000 for a single-family household.
Secondly, applicants must have been convicted of a cannabis crime or have lived a neighborhood for 10 or more years where police disproportionately arrested people of color for cannabis-related offenses.
The program is still in its early days, but so far it is working. The Hood Incubator’s first graduates have launched their perspective businesses, and it is now in the process of selecting the next class. On top of that, donors have taken notice, and the organization has started to rake in “multiple five-figure donations” as well.
Martin and Ifedigbo, all while fine-tuning their own program, have started to help others around the country start programs just like it. Cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Memphis have all started similar programs.
“The hood incubator isn’t just interested in weed – or getting a few businesses off the ground – but in setting national standards,” said San Jose State University sociology professor William Armaline. “They’re interested in changing the power dynamics between communities and those doing business in and profiting from those communities.”
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