Meet the Yale MBA Helping People of Color Enter the Cannabis Industry

America’s shameful racial disparity when it comes to cannabis arrests has been well-documented, with a 2010 study by the ACLU showing blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana, despite using cannabis at roughly the same rate.

The good news is that marijuana legalization vastly reduces these arrests—though not the disparity—making it a significant if imperfect step towards addressing racial inequality. But what about the cannabis industry?

In states with legal cannabis cultivation and sales, ownership and even employment among people of color lags far behind equal representation. A 2016 Buzzfeed feature reported thatit appears fewer than three dozen of the 3,200 to 3,600 storefront marijuana dispensaries in the United States are owned by black people — about 1%..

At the recent HIGH TIMES Business Conference in Los Angeles, we caught up with Ebele Ifedigbo, a recently graduated Yale MBA and co-founder of the Hood Incubator, to talk about why that disparity exists, what this new organization is doing to help correct it, and how you can help support their work via a new crowdfunding campaign.

What does the Hood Incubator do?

We’re the cannabis industry’s first people of color focused business accelerator. We’re really trying to reach folks who’ve either been a part of the underground cannabis economy, or who face barriers to entry because they come from low-income communities. We want to help them accelerate their talents and translate their existing skills to the formal market. Along with my co-founders, I got involved because I see cannabis as a way to build economic power and freedom for communities traditionally left out of the wealth building project in this country.

What specific barriers do people of color face when trying to enter the cannabis industry?

The largest barrier is the War on Drugs and its destructive legacy, as people of color have been disproportionately criminalized and imprisoned for low-level cannabis-related offenses. Another huge barrier is lack of access to capital. When you look at the costs associated with getting into the legal market, many people just don’t have it, and they don’t have equal access to loans and venture capital.

What programs do you offer?

We’ve been having monthly member meetings since 2015, and we’ve also been very involved in the policy conversation around cannabis regulations in Oakland and throughout the Bay Area.

This January, we launched our first first pre-seed accelerator, a 4-month, 100-hour business intensive that facilitates participants’ transition from informal to formal cannabis operations by providing training and mentorship in partnership with the mainstream Oakland cannabis legal and business community. Participants will walk away from the program with a vetted pitch-deck and presentation, and a business plan with financial projections. They’ll also have started the process of building industry contacts and the networks they’ll need to take their ventures to the next level..

And we run “Know Your Rights” legal workshops, because even as society moves cannabis into these legal markets, people of color remain vulnerable to over-criminalization. So we want to make sure that our community is informed and protected.


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