“Minorities have always had access to cannabis. I’m more focused on the importance of minorities having access to business and job opportunities within the industry,” says Kevin Ford Jr., the founder, and CEO of Uplift Maryland. According to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC), 58% of Maryland’s cannabis business employees are minorities, but only 35% are owners.
Uplift Maryland, a forward-thinking organization focused on training minorities on how to be successful in the medical cannabis industry in Maryland, received one of five grants from the MMCC to develop cannabis educational and business training programs for minorities and women.
“Both of my parents are doctors, so growing up I always had an interest in the medical side of things,” shared Ford over the phone. His interest in medical marijuana was peaked even more when he realized he could use the plant to treat his classic migraines. “Classic migraines are the most debilitating headaches. Throughout college, I worked to figure out how to use cannabis during a migraine or even in preparation for one coming,” says Ford.
After graduating from Morehouse College in 2013 with a B.A. in Marketing, Ford returned home to Prince George County, MD., one of the most affluent black communities in the United States, to pursue a career in commercial real estate. Upon moving back home, Ford, who had already been advocating for cannabis for about 10 years, saw an equity disparity. He eventually went to work for Mary & Main, a black women-owned dispensary in Maryland, as an inventory manager before receiving the MMCC grant.
“I was actually one of the first employees at Mary & Main. During that time, I figured out that my knowledge base on the plant and the business together was way above average,” says Ford. “At that point, we actually applied for the MMCC educational business grant to develop a training program for minorities and women who are looking to get in the industry on an entrepreneurial front.”
“I think my message kind of shifted from medical patient outreach to business development outreach because they’re a lot of people who really do want to be part of the industry. What I’ve told everybody who’s come to our training classes is that the first way to get into the industry is to become a patient, check out the product and see what it’s really about, so you can inform yourself about what’s going on,” shares Ford with High Times.
Prince George County’s paints itself as a “cultural and economic leader of tomorrow”. The same progressive language can be found in Uplift Maryland’s mission.Through education and conversation, Ford believes he can change the way many minorities interact with the cannabis plant on a business level.
“With my company Uplift Maryland and our mission, which is to end the cannabis stigma with education and training, what we’re really about is educating folks, letting them know that this is an actual industry now and that there is an opportunity on multiple levels for folks who look like us [to benefit], especially with this new push for social equity that’s coming along.”
One of Ford’s main focuses is to encourage open and honest conversations about cannabis in minority communities.
“In my experience, cannabis has broken various barriers of age, race, and religion. It’s my hope that openness about cannabis could lead to [more] conversations on other taboo topics,” says Ford.
As a new dad, he says that his parents have questioned whether he will have weed around his child. “As the son of two doctors, although liberal, I grew up in a conservative environment. However, I was able to have my own thoughts and dreams,” says Ford.
“I told my parents that weed is just a plant. If this is a smell that he’s familiar with, then so be it. Because it’s not an issue. It’s normal, and we need to be bringing the next generation up to understand, be educated on it and not make it so taboo.”