In a world filled with remarkable individuals, Alyza Brevard Rodriguez’s story stands as an embodiment of relentless determination and unwavering dedication.
Before even realizing the extent of her own potential, she emerged from humble beginnings and charted an extraordinary path.
With an unparalleled drive, Alyza put herself through college, embarked on multiple overseas tours of duty in the Navy, established a wellness studio, embraced motherhood, and transitioned into the ever-evolving cannabis space to become a true trailblazer. But her journey doesn’t stop there. Alyza’s insatiable ambition led her to pursue a doctorate degree, and she now stands as the leader of multiple brands, as well as the esteemed host of the industry-renowned podcast, Coffee and Cannabis. However, the term “hustle” barely scratches the surface of Alyza’s journey. A staunch advocate for wellness, diversity, and inclusion, she proudly holds the distinction of being the first Black, LatinaX, LGBTQ+, female, disabled Veteran-owned cannabis operator in New Jersey.
Alyza’s unwavering commitment to wellness, diversity, and entrepreneurship has propelled her to the pinnacle of the cannabis industry. Most recently, she was granted a coveted retail license in New Jersey, a testament to her qualifications and merit.
In the moments between her tireless endeavors, she delves into the world of academia, working on a dissertation that explores the intricacies of black women’s leadership in the protection industry.
Alyza Brevard Rodriguez’s journey is a testament to the heights one can reach through relentless determination and an unwavering commitment to the values of wellness, diversity, and entrepreneurship.
Emerald Magazine: Alyza, your journey from putting yourself through college, serving in the Navy, and opening a wellness studio to becoming a trailblazer in the cannabis space is truly inspiring. Can you share some pivotal moments that shaped your decision to enter the industry?
Alyza Brevard Rodriguez: I’m not sure whether to be proud, exhausted, or both. I appreciate this question though because I do have some pivotal moments that forced me to approach life from a different lens. The birth of my daughter during COVID brought the beauty of parenthood, but I missed crucial moments due to military deployment. This, along with an injury during duty, led to my decision to walk away from the service after 10 years. A problem with my resignation added to my conviction for freedom when I was threatened with disciplinary actions. These experiences, coupled with my desire for spiritual freedom, led me to the cannabis industry, enhancing my wellness portfolio and enabling me to be a better parent and person.
EM: As the first Black, LatinaX, LGBTQ, Female, Disabled Veteran cannabis operator in New Jersey, you’ve broken barriers in multiple dimensions. How has your diverse background influenced your approach to entrepreneurship and leadership in the cannabis space?
AR: My diverse background deeply shapes my entrepreneurial and leadership approach, emphasizing an appreciation for diverse perspectives and the power of diversity in fostering innovation. In tandem with my military experience, my ongoing doctoral study on leadership and intersectionality enriches my cultural awareness and adaptability. The cannabis industry clarified my purpose, highlighting resourcefulness, adaptability, and resilience in adversity. As an entrepreneur, I confront challenges with a solution-oriented mindset, leveraging diverse experiences for unconventional success. Committed to social impact, my businesses aim for meaningful contributions to societal betterment, inspiring authenticity, and integrating social considerations into entrepreneurial endeavors.
EM: Being a champion for wellness, diversity, and inclusion, how do you integrate these values into the brands you lead and your role in the cannabis industry?
AR: All my brands, while diverse on the surface, carry pieces of me in their branding or mission. The use of bricks, a constant nod to my urban roots, symbolizes overcoming challenges in the concrete jungle. From projects in Connecticut to Jersey City, it’s a reminder of beauty rising from the bricks.
As a leader representing diverse social identities in cannabis, my most potent integration is my voice. Few connect with as many groups—from academia to the streets, veterans to queer communities. I’m a bridge, offering inspiration and hope for progress through authentic leadership, highlighting the value of diversity in thriving organizations.
EM: Recently, you were awarded a retail license in New Jersey, which is a significant achievement. Can you walk us through the challenges and successes you encountered during this process?
AR: Facing higher barriers for disenfranchised groups is widely known, and I underestimated the challenges we’d encounter. In Jersey City, municipal approval followed unsuccessful attempts in other areas like Hoboken and Atlantic City. Despite hurdles, we raised $1.1 million from black and brown investors. A property in an unzoned area was another challenge; we took a risk, paid rent, and waited for rezoning, which happened five months after municipal approval, causing considerable stress.
The planning board became a significant hurdle. Despite supportive members, backlogs affected us weekly. Spending over $30k attending multiple meetings was a strain. During our hearing, our engineer’s hospitalization and others’ absence forced my partner and me to present independently.
The silver lining: the city eliminated the entire planning board hearing process for cannabis. You can’t make this stuff up.
EM: You chose to only raise money from minority investors for your cannabis venture, emphasizing that minorities don’t need to be pigeonholed. How has this decision influenced your business strategy, and what message do you hope it sends to the industry?
AR: Choosing to raise funds from minority investors was a deliberate move to expand my mission of empowering minorities with wealth-building opportunities. Overcoming generational misinformation and limited access to financial education, this decision aims to increase representation and empowerment in the entrepreneurial landscape. Offering equity stakes provides a tangible asset for investors to pass on to their families, contributing to their legacy and societal impact.
Seasoned minority investors at the table bring valuable networks and resources that benefit start-ups. This collaboration opens doors to opportunities, mentorship, partnerships, and insights, accelerating growth for minority-led businesses.
By setting this standard, I want to convey that this approach allows individuals from disadvantaged communities to directly engage in and benefit from a business’s success. This direction with TOSD aims to foster the success and sustainability of minority-owned businesses, promoting diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship and leadership.
EM: Hosting the podcast “Coffee and Cannabis” provides a platform to discuss industry trends and insights. What motivated you to start the podcast, and what have been some of the most enlightening conversations you’ve had?
AR: Starting the “Coffee and Cannabis” podcast was an unexpected but impactful strategic move. Facing restrictions on cannabis advertising, especially on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, I saw the opportunity to use YouTube, which is less prohibitive and boosts SEO due to its connection with Google. Analyzing the industry in my state, I found a cultural gap—few high-quality cannabis podcasts that offered disruptive, intellectual conversations.
Recognizing misconceptions about cannabis consumers and a lack of diversity among podcast hosts in this niche, I aimed to fill this void. The podcast gained traction quickly, achieving monetization within a year and reaching a substantial audience. The impact has been remarkable, featuring guests like legendary producer Dame Grease, social equity applicants sharing transparent experiences, and insiders revealing stories with trauma, drama, and lawsuits. “Coffee and Cannabis” not only provides a platform for stories but also serves as an educational resource for the cannabis culture.
EM: With your background as a Disabled Veteran, how do you advocate for disabled veterans within the cannabis industry, and what improvements would you like to see in terms of inclusivity for disabled individuals?
AR: My military experience, despite its challenges, has shaped me, and I believe sharing my journey is crucial. While my businesses engage in initiatives supporting veterans, my most powerful tool is my voice. In the face of staggering statistics—83% of veterans with PTSD and 47% deployed at least three times—I advocate for cannabis. Having personally transformed with cannabis, I emphasize its potential to address issues like PTSD and opioid addiction.
Through transparent discussions, I highlight how cannabis has reduced my reliance on medications and provided a sense of chaotic peace. Microdosing cannabis has become my homeostasis. As a disabled veteran, I emphasize the need for improved healthcare. Authorizing cannabis as an alternative for veterans could address the opioid crisis and offer mental freedom. The key is providing this level of pain relief and mental well-being to those who have served.
EM: You’ve chosen not to go the social equity route for your cannabis license. Can you elaborate on your decision and the broader message you hope it conveys about entrepreneurship and inclusion in the industry?
AR: Our choice not to pursue social equity was thrust upon us, but it became a powerful narrative. Initially applying, we were deemed ineligible due to income thresholds. This became an opportunity to showcase that we can succeed without state grants. It proves group economics still works, highlighting that minority communities invest in minority businesses.
Our journey challenges the notion that diverse companies should settle for mere crumbs from social equity programs. These programs often lack resources and education for sustainability, setting many up for failure. The term “social equity” sometimes suggests doing a favor for the Black community, perpetuating a historical pattern of tokenism. I hope our journey emphasizes that Black leadership and entrepreneurship can thrive at a professional high level, challenging the notion that we should settle for leftovers.
EM: Looking forward, what are your aspirations for the future of your brands, and how do you envision your role in shaping the cannabis landscape, particularly in New Jersey?
AR: My brands aim to redefine industry standards, introducing a rare fusion of high-end cannabis lifestyle and wellness orientation. This distinction contributes to destigmatizing cannabis, supported by our facility’s educational section providing responsible messaging. Our initiatives and future expansions offer economic opportunities for those impacted by the war on drugs.
Entering the unique consumption lounge space, we pioneer concepts not yet introduced. My innovative approach, seen in SW3AT, challenges norms, breaking stigmas around wellness. As a doctor of science in leadership, my future role includes advocating for more Black and brown leadership, supporting the next generation of leaders.
In her ongoing journey of reshaping the cannabis industry, Alyza Brevard Rodriguez goes beyond traditional businesses to act as drivers of change. With a deep commitment to wellness, diversity, and inclusion, she envisions a culture not just centered on cultivating cannabis, but on igniting transformation.
Alyza leverages her voice to amplify the stories often unheard, setting the path for others to follow. This interview isn’t just about her personal journey; it’s a testament to authenticity, resilience, and the impact one individual can have on an entire industry.
Alyza’s story illuminates the path toward a future where cannabis becomes a catalyst for significant change.