A recent article from the Root started off by asking several questions: What if all the drug money made in black neighborhoods stayed in black neighborhoods? What if the people selling weed in communities of color didn’t have to hide the money? What if they didn’t have to worry about being arrested 3.7 times more often than whites? What if the tax revenue for every blunt you smoked went to a local school?
As weed explodes into a billion dollar industry, expected to create 300,000 jobs by 2020—despite Jeff Sessions who wants to rekindle the failed War on Drugs—the article’s author, Michael Harriot, had another question: Where are all the black people?
Dominated by white men, he quotes a report that estimates less than one percent of cannabis dispensaries are owned by blacks.
Some say it’s because it takes so much capital to get into the industry, which includes licensing fees, etc.
But many will agree that the reason is because U.S. drug policies have unfairly targeted black people—and still do.
“It’s not as if black people don’t smoke marijuana. It’s not as if black people don’t sell weed. But what if there were a place that could educate the hood on getting into the above-ground pot industry? What if there were some sort of school where you could connect the guys in streets persecuted by unequal justice with business owners, learn about investing and get trained by people with experience?” Harriot asked.
The Hood Incubator— a collective founded by three black visionaries who are “kicking in the doors to the cannabis industry for people of color.” The organization seeks to help blacks become entrepreneurs, investors and employees in California’s booming new weed market.
The Hood Incubator was founded by electoral organizer Lanese Martin; community organizer Biseat Horning and Yale MBA Ebele Ifedigbo, who have created an all-inclusive model designed to help black and brown people enter every phase of the legal marijuana market.
Ifedigbo noted that in terms of business investments, in general, less than one percent of venture capital or loans in this country go to black business owners.
“We liken it to the tech industry,” said Juell Stewart, Hood Incubator’s director of communications. “There are economic and educational barriers that obstruct people of color from getting in on the ground floor of this industry.”
The Hood Incubator, explained Harriot, creates a network of resources designed to help people through the labyrinth of hurdles that people of color may face.
They offer legal assistance to help with the licensing process and have business experts who offer advice on marketing, sales and financing.
Their health clinics educate people on the medical benefits of MMJ and have partnered with companies that offer apprenticeships for people looking for job opportunities in the industry.
What sets the Hood Incubator apart from other organizations is its five-month training program, which takes a holistic approach to educating participants on everything related to cannabis and business.
Some of their graduates have gone on to start their own businesses, while other students team up with established companies as apprentices.
Jetty Extracts, a leading extracts producer in California, has an apprentice from the Hood Incubator.
“Our apprenticeship basically teaches every aspect of the cannabis extraction business,” said Ron Gershoni of Jetty Extracts. “They work in a lab environment. They learn to operate all of our equipment. They learn every step, from raw material to a finished product.”
Gershoni agrees that the weed industry has been very exclusionary.
“Even though it is a progressive industry, a lot of owners tend to hire people they already know because of the nature of the business. So if you don’t have capital, real estate or connections, it is possible that a lot of people get shut out,” said Gershoni.
Meanwhile, Michael Harriot pointed out that California has the sixth-largest economy in the world. If it were a country, its gross domestic product would be higher than France, Italy and even Canada.
In view of the billions the state is expected to make with legal weed, Harriot had one more question: “Why should it all go to white guys? Can the hood get some of that? Maybe we can, if the folks at the Hood Incubator have their say.”