It is neither uncommon nor unknown that there exists a problem of racial injustice, prejudice, and corruption in the cannabis industry. What should be known as a loving, mindful, flourishing community of inclusion, health, and education has now turned into a breeding spot for the seeds of privileged, bigoted individuals exuding white superiority. Although there are many culprits incorporated into this statement, today we will be talking about one dispensary chain owner, Shy Sadis.
Shy Sadis has fully branched out into the medical and recreational market in Washington, and owns a small cannabis empire in the state, including several dispensaries such The Joint Tacoma and The Joint Burian, and several under the name “Starbuds.”
Recently, however, several photos were revealed on social media of Sadis in blackface, dressed as Kanye West with an accompanying “Kim Kardashian” for a Halloween party. The exact year of the party is unknown, however, screenshots suggest photos were taken 10 years ago.
Shy Sadis has faced little to no repercussions, and continues to profit off of several dispensaries. But, several of Sadis’ employees staged a walk-out the day they were informed of the photos. Others quit shortly after.
In an attempt to rid our community of racist, misogynistic, powerful mega-business owners, Agnes, a manager of The Joint Tacoma and one of the employees who walked out on the day of the incident, reached out to the Emerald to give us her story. For fear of running into trouble at her new job, Agnes’s name has been changed for anonymity purposes.
“I don’t want to come at this from a hateful standpoint, I want to use this as a learning tool for everybody to benefit from,” Agnes prefaces.
Agnes explains that Shy Sadis has cut legal corners in regards to ownership of his businesses.
Shy Sadis, however, has no regard to these laws and instead elicits the help of his family and friends by placing their names — including his mother and brother — on the business and building licenses and either adds himself as a “consultant” or pays a small fee to license The Joint name.
When Washington state legalized the adult use of recreational marijuana in 2012, they also regulated how many stores were allowed to open and in turn, created a lottery for available licenses.
According to Marijuana Venture, “Shy Sadis entered his top three stores — the state limit — in the license lottery and helped friends and family file for licenses of their own. The state held a random drawing for licenses in each jurisdiction that had more qualified applicants than allotted stores. When the big day came, Sadis was left in the cold, but not out of the game. “I didn’t win any of my licenses,” he says, “but I did have friends and family win some.”
So although Sadis is not technically the direct “owner” of these dispensaries — including The Joint Tacoma, which is under his family friend Sean’s name — he still profits by receiving a consultant fee and is still able to run multiple businesses at once under his umbrella company, SMP Retail.
“That’s not how Washington state wanted the weed industry to be set up. They did it on a lottery so it was fair, but then, of course, the people with the most money can buy those licenses,” Agnes says.
According to Marijuana Venture, Sadis isn’t particularly fond of cannabis.
In 2017, Sadis told the publication that, “dealing pot was never a big deal for him; it just made for an engaging headline,” and the “potential to supplement his income.”
“I just saw an investment opportunity,” he adds, “I wasn’t even a user.”
Emerald reached out to Sadis for comment — in which he says, “It was 10 years ago, an old Halloween costume. My wife wanted to be Kim Kardashian. A disgruntled employee that was fired recently spun it like I just did it for Black Lives Matter. I’m not racist.” Then, Sadis adds, “Why would you want to even post it?”
Agnes has worked with The Joint stores since 2017. While working at the Joint Burien late that year, she recalls hearing several microaggressions float around the workplace.
“You would hear things like, “I don’t know if Shy [Sadis] is going to want to hire that type of person.” Now, that type of person could mean anything from ethnicity to ‘ugly’,” Agnes says.
These comments, orated by some of Sadis’ managers in the building, also included sayings like “I don’t know if she’s pretty enough to work here,” or, “I don’t know if he wants to hire that many Black people.”
It was at this time that Agnes was immediately tipped off to potential corruption within the company.
“It’s so frustrating how complacent everybody that I’ve talked to is about this,” Agnes says of some of her co-workers.
Agnes emphasizes that she did not hear these comments explicitly stated from Sadis’s mouth, but from the managers, whom she describes not as malevolent people, but extremely complacent and part of the wrongdoing that took place.
“My complacency is wrong as well,” says Agnes.
But, due to a lack of a support system and because this job is her livelihood, Agnes had no choice but to keep her job; another way wealthy business owners keep their corruption discreet.
In fact, Columbia Law School’s The Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity touched on this subject:
“Another widely-referenced study discusses how corruption becomes “normalized” in organizations through three mutually reinforcing processes: institutionalization, rationalization, and socialization. During institutionalization, a corrupt decision or act becomes embedded in corporate structures and processes. During rationalization, self-serving ideologies develop that enable individuals to justify corrupt behavior. And finally, during socialization, embedded systems and norms induce new employees to tolerate corruption and view it as permissible.”
“Just because I was complacent and stayed working there doesn’t mean I stayed quiet about it,” Agnes adds.
Whenever she came in contact with these statements, Agnes said she remained vocal about it’s unethical and unacceptable qualities.
Emerald also spoke with another source, Erika, also a manager and employee at The Joint Tacoma at the time. Erika’s name has also been changed for anonymity purposes.
When asked about these frequent microaggressions, Erika says, “I haven’t heard anything directly from Shy [Sadis], most of it would come down through [managers at Tacoma].”
Erika began by recounting a story about an incident in which Sadis called the manager after seeing a female plus-size employee working on the floor, and asked, “Who hired her?”
Erika also recounts a story in which her and her husband, both white, attended a work party. Sadis came up to introduce himself to her husband, who was wearing a Union sweater.
“I personally didn’t see him do that to anyone else,” she says of the room, which she explains was filled predominantly with Black people.
Months later, when she asked other employees if he had done the same to them. Their response, she says, “No. He barely even looked at us.”
Erika describes another incident, which occurred at a restaurant while several employees were waiting for food to-go.
Due to an ongoing carpool, two employees — both Black men — grabbed several bags of food once finished for their friends in the carpool. A couple days later, Erika’s higher-up manager inquired about the two men, and explained that Sadis had told her that there were “some Black guys from Tacoma” ordering too much food and that he felt “disrespected” and taken advantage of.
The Joint Tacoma’s leading manager, who our sources have decided to keep anonymous, plays a complex role in the entire situation. Though the manager was never described as an outwardly bad person, she remained passive and complacent.
Erika explains an instance where she was excited at the prospect of hiring two new and talented employees, both trans women. However, her manager was hesitant, and stated, “I don’t know if Shy [Sadis] is going to approve of them.”
Having left the hiring process due to her getting sick, the two women were never hired.
When The Joint Tacoma opened up, Agnes and three others— all white — were in charge of setting-up the store. She recalls hearing of a meeting between the higher-ups to “revamp” the store by hiring “sexier, scantily-clad” people to fill the positions.
After the store’s first round of hiring, Agnes was able to be more diverse and inclusive in the process, hiring more people of color and the first trans employee.
During this time, a fellow employee was fired for “not pulling her weight” after expressing her distaste of the frequent comments by only working the bare minimum.
Agnes says this employee, “was under the impression that the owner is a shitty person and did not want to make money for him anymore.”
Taking her place, Agnes took on more responsibility, and was soon running the store. At this point, there was much more of a diverse mix between employees, and she describes the workplace as a “family.”
On June 11th, however, Agnes was counting in an order when a fellow employee walked into the office and asked if she was aware that pictures of Sadis in blackface were circulating Twitter, including a text from him that read, “I don’t regret it at all,” and “I’m not racist, we have lots of black workers.”
Disgusted, and appalled, Agnes began to investigate.
The pictures, originally taken several years ago, were posted to Facebook by a Burien citizen, Nik Butt Paulson.
Taken from Sadis’ actual Facebook page, Paulson blasted it on Facebook, and his post was soon flagged and taken down.
The picture only exists on one webpage now, which Agnes has decided to keep anonymous in order to keep it on the internet.
Paulson engaged in a back and forth heated discussion in the comments of his post with Sadis himself.
In these comments, Sadis shows proof of him donating $250 to the Black Lives Matter movement. He is a “self-described multimillionaire.”
As The Joint Tacoma’s aforementioned manager walked by, Agnes asked if she had seen the picture. She responded by rolling her eyes and saying “Oh, that again,” implying that she had previously known about it.
More employees began to file in and learn of the situation. Agnes made a tearful phone call to Erika, who arrived at the store immediately.
Before making any hasty decisions, Agnes decided to confront the manager.
“She had nothing to say. There was nothing to offer,” she says of the manager’s response.
Erika also attempted to discuss the situation with their manager, but again was met with nothing.
Now, convinced there was no way the situation could be salvaged, Agnes and Erika decided to walk out, followed by other employees later in the day. One employee, who decided to walk out but could not afford to quit immediately, instead deciding to “actively look for another job,” was fired the next day.
One employee who decided to stay, a friend of Agnes and a Black male, was quickly placed in her old position. However, this position now has less responsibility and is receiving a decreased wage than Agnes did, which she already claimed wasn’t enough.
Shortly after the incident, Shy Sadis issued an apology letter in which he states he will take steps to ensure these “misunderstandings” don’t happen in the future.
The only steps Agnes says have been made at the store is tokenizing people of color. “They’re now using Black people as a shield against this,” she added. “He has done nothing.”
Since the incident, a Black Lives Matter sign made of sharpie on cardboard was hung in the store, and the company has hired a few more people of color.
“Some bougie ass millionaire is sitting on his throne, eating his racism for dinner,” Agnes says. “I wish the [WSLCB] had something more to say about it, but the [WSLCB] consists mainly of retired cops…. I wish I could go to them for a resource.”
“We’re all cogs in the systemic racism machine. Being a white person, if you want to be actively non-racist, you have to work at that every day,” adds Agnes.
In terms of what Shy Sadis’ next steps should be, Agnes says that in a “Fantasy scenario,” Sadis would “‘[…] turn the license for The Joint Tacoma over to a collective of people-of-color or The Black Lives Matter movement… something to show that you want to uplift people rather than stomp them into the ground and perpetuate our capitalist society.”
Agnes, Erika, and several other employees have reached out to a local news reporter and to lawyers, but Agnes feels she is at a dead end.
“Coming from me, it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter who I am. It’s situational, and the situation is important,” Agnes says of her decision of staying anonymous.
“It can’t keep going on. People like that can’t keep living their lives with no regrets or no basis of any morals,” Erika says of Shy Sadis.
Agnes and Erika both recognize that silence is oppression, and they urge customers to use conscious consumption habits that dismantle, rather than uphold, racist and bigoted business practices.
Agnes states, “It’s not about slander or vengeance, it’s about a teaching device for the rest of the industry…. It’s about rectifying the wrongs that you’ve done… It’s about being mindful.”
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IMAGE VIA THE JOINT LLC
By Mandy Figueroa