Entrepreneur Lance Nixon remains focused on launching his delivery company in Colorado. Photo courtesy of Khadijah Adams, LLC.
Lance Nixon, who has recently received an approval as a social equity licensee in Colorado, is hyper-aware of the obstacles barring entry into the cannabis industry.
He told Emerald, laughing, “this is the first [legal] business I’ve tried to start, and I was thinking how much easier it would’ve been to start any other kind of business.”
Nixon’s humorous observance sheds light upon the difficult process of entering the legal cannabis market, which rich white men dominate. Colorado’s social equity program has also failed Nixon, offering him few benefits and no capital to help with licensing fees.
However, Nixon remains determined to emerge victorious. He lamented the systemic racism inherent within corporate America and cannabis, and explained how this prejudice affects his own goals. He stated, “I’m trying to become a boss so I can do something that is profitable and that will help give back to my people. The only way that will happen is when someone who looks like them is succeeding.”
Nixon’s plan is in its early stages. While his ultimate goal is to cultivate cannabis; for now, he is focused on getting the required delivery licenses both locally and on a state level, and then partnering with a qualified retail marijuana business (RMB) in Colorado.
Nixon has come a long way from Gary, Indiana, and is confident that the skills he’s acquired will pay off.
From the Murder Captial to the Mile High City
Nixon grew up in Gary, Indiana. The city was the nation’s murder capital in the 1990s, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
He described it as a low-income area, originally an economic hub due to its plentiful steel mills. When these shut down in the ’80s and ’90s, unemployment skyrocketed. Nixon noted, “[There was] a lot of crime, drugs, and gangs..the same shit that’s in any city in America.”
It was in Gary, Indiana, that Nixon’s older cousin’s introduced him to cannabis distribution. However, it wasn’t until college that he became involved in the business himself.
Nixon attended a university in Savannah, Georgia, and found himself in a strikingly different cultural environment. Let’s be clear, Lance went to a predominantly White university. Moving from Black-majority Gary to a white-dominated institution, Lance was “a hella minority,” he described.
Cannabis allowed Nixon to navigate this transition, as the teen soon found himself in need of a source of income. Nixon explains, “I started selling cannabis just to eat, pay my bills, buy my books.” This legacy business allowed Nixon to become skilled in communicating with the white majority.
“I learned about doing business culturally and economically with a group I didn’t necessarily belong to. I learned how to put people who didn’t look like me or might be nervous about doing business with someone who is not from where they’re from at ease [so we could] come together over the thing we were both interested in, which is cannabis.”
Nixon graduated, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a focus in 3D animation. However, he soon found that he made more money illicitly selling cannabis than in an entry-level position in his field. Inspired by this fact (and the illegal status of cannabis in Georgia), Nixon moved to Colorado to pursue a career in the cannabis industry.
Hit the Ground Running
But soon, Nixon realized, “I couldn’t come to Colorado where they have dispensaries on every corner and continue to sell cannabis illegally.”
The entrepreneur knew he put himself in a “sink or swim situation;” he would have to incorporate himself into the legal industry or abandon the venture altogether.
Applying his previously learned interpersonal skills, Nixon devoted himself to various jobs in the field. For example, he worked at “over 30 grows and eight dispensaries” in four years, he explained. Local Denverites might recognize some of the companies where he applied his talents, including Emerald Fields and Medicine Man.
But Nixon wanted more. He started growing tired of following orders when he knew such actions would not be profitable in the long run. So, he decided to start his own company.
His desire to escape the rampant racism inherent in the industry also fueled his decision. Nixon told Emerald, “anything I’ve experienced in every legal job in America, racism was a part of it. I’m trying to find ways to maneuver around it; and that’s what being an entrepreneur and starting my own business is about.”
Examining the racial disparity in cannabis business owners illustrates the truth of this statement. According to CNBC, as of 2017, “81% of marijuana business owners in the U.S. were white; 5.7% were Hispanic; 4.3% were Black; and 2.4% were Asian.”
In Colorado, less than 1% of cannabis business owners and founders were Black, according to a 2017 Marijuana Business Daily survey.
Edgar Cruz, CEO of the cannabis brand Ekstrepe, asserts that this lack of diversity is partly due to the lasting impact of the War on Drugs, which disproportionately targets people of color.
Thus, Nixon abandoned the corporate ladder and entered the famously convoluted application process. While his goal is to ultimately grow and sell his own product, he began by pursuing a delivery license. The cheapest license that one can get is “over $14,000 in fees,” he explained.
In addition to high licensing fees, Nixon encountered other obstacles commonly met by those attempting to enter the industry. Typically, success in cannabis requires significant personal wealth, not only to pay licensing fees but to meet intense state and federal regulations. When a “high capital-intensive business,” and a “lack of personal wealth” come together, it becomes extremely difficult to start a cannabis company, according to Business Insider.
Nixon, who was just trying to make ends meet in a new city, did not have this financial safety net. He further emphasized that the application itself is “super litigiously written, to the point where [he] had to partner with a consulting firm, C. E. Hutton, LLC, who then pointed him in the direction of an attorney who agreed to help him fill it out, pro-bono.”
Originally, Nixon hoped that joining a social equity program would alleviate his financial difficulties. On the contrary, he told Emerald that since joining the program, he hasn’t “benefited in any way.”
Personal Success, Governmental Failure
Within the social equity realm, Nixon applied for the Accelerator Program. Theoretically, the program enables individuals “to own/operate a marijuana business license as part of an agreed-upon partnership with an existing marijuana business that has been endorsed by [the Marijuana Enforcement Division],” reports the Colorado Department of Revenue.
But Nixon told Emerald that, thus far, no companies have volunteered to provide support in the form of capital and technical assistance. He lamented that “none of those people that are making millions of dollars in the cannabis industry” are willing to take a chance on social equity applicants, even those who show great potential.
Nixon is not alone in his frustration. According to Westword, William Denney, who worked security in the industry for years, found himself in the same situation with the Accelerator Program.
He told Westworld, “I can’t receive a contract until somebody’s willing to partner with me for delivery or to do the Accelerator Program. That’s the issue I’ve been running into: No one wants to give up that 51 percent of ownership.”
Ultimately, it was with the help of Khadijah Adams, author, and founder of Girl Get That Money, a business empowerment coaching and consultancy firm, that Nixon received his approval as a social equity licensee. Witnessing his skills and experience as a social equity applicant, Adams took interest in helping Nixon.
Nixon told Emerald, “ I couldn’t have afforded the help I needed to get to this point [without her].”
A Bright Future
Now, armed with his approval as a social equity licensee, Nixon is ready to take the next steps.
He is currently looking to partner with an established cannabis retail business in Colorado. Although he has to go through more “bureaucratic bullshit” before he can actually go to work, Nixon remains undeterred.
Regarding his future goals, he told Emerald: “being a fully integrated company, where I can cultivate cannabis and distribute it, is my desire in the long-run.”
Lance is confident that success will be his — “this is just the beginning!”
Written by Moira Mahoney
Sylvester Nixon says
Go for it. A poor black man in Gary,In.