Recreational cannabis is legal in 19 states and Washington, D.C. While the industry continues to expand, however, the barriers to entry remain high, especially for people of color. While some Black entrepreneurs including celebrities like Wiz Khalifa and Jay-Z have launched successful cannabis brands, certain states forbid those with felony convictions from even working in a dispensary.
According to a survey from Marijuana Business Daily, about 80% of marijuana business owners and founders identify as White, while only 5.7% of these entrepreneurs are Hispanic or Latino, and 4.3% are Black. Although government support for business hopefuls remains seldom, these cannabis activists are working tirelessly to lower barriers to entry into this space.
Dasheeda Dawson is a global cannabis advocate, business strategist, and bestselling author of “How to Succeed in the Cannabis Industry.” Originally from New York City, Dawson has traveled all over the country since leaving the corporate world in 2016 and is now known as the third Black woman in the country to hold a cannabis regulatory oversight leadership role.
Backed by experience as Chair for the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC), Cannabis Program Manager for Portland’s Office of Community & Civic Life, and Board member for Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), Dawson recently returned to her roots to lead New York City’s effort in supporting entrepreneurs and workers seeking entry into the cannabis industry. As the Founding Director of Cannabis NYC, Dawson will lead a small team supporting sustainable cannabis businesses and helping entrepreneurs apply for licenses, access financing opportunities, and navigate municipal regulations. As New York City’s first cannabis director, her fierce advocacy for the legalization of cannabis is expected to shed light on health disparities and the damage to people and neighborhoods most affected by prohibition.
In 2016 Dawson also founded The WeedHead™ & Company – a cannabis education and lifestyle brand developed by corporate-to-cannabis thought leaders and educators to provide education, empowerment, and enrichment for professionals curious about and working in cannabis. She is also the co-host of She Blaze, an award-winning podcast bringing cannabis culture from a woman’s perspective to the mainstream.
Amber E. Senter
Equipped with over twenty years of marketing and project management experience, Amber E. Senter is the founder and CEO of MAKR House, a distribution and infused cannabis products company, as well as the co-founder, Chair of the Board, and Executive Director of Supernova Women.
Formed in 2015, Supernova Women is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering People of Color to become self-sufficient cannabis industry shareholders. Established and led by a board of all Black and Brown Women, Supernova prioritizes education, advocacy, and network building to bridge connections and establish equity in today’s cannabis market. Supernova Women also commissioned the Social Equity Impact Report in 2022 to provide decision-makers with numbers, rather than just stories, representing what a healthy Social Equity Program could do for a community and economy.
Senter has also served as the Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee for the National Cannabis Industry Association and the Chief Operations Officer (COO) of an Oakland dispensary, where she secured Oakland’s first onsite consumption permit.
Jessica F. Gonzalez
Serving as a Cannabis and Intellectual Property attorney at Hiller PC and outside General Counsel for the national organization Minorities for Medical Marijuana Inc, Jessica Gonzalez offers one of the most law-informed voices in the cannabis industry. Having emigrated to Jersey City at the age of three, Gonzalez sees cannabis as a way to get in touch with her ancestors’ ocean and mountain people who value plant-based medicine, and a way to support minorities and women seeking access.
Recognized for her knowledge and passion for change, Gonzalez is lobbying the fight for a more equitable cannabis industry in more ways than one. Aside from assisting clients in navigating the legal cannabis industry in intellectual property and state licensing applications, Gonzalez has helped shape cannabis policy immensely in New Jersey by leading the social impact committee in one of the most successful cannabis legalization campaigns in the country, NJ CAN 2020. With her efforts, two-thirds of New Jerseyans voted in favor of adult-use cannabis legalization on the November ballot.
Gonzalez is also educating the next generation of cannabis employees as the Student Committee Director for the International Cannabis Bar Association and Cannabis Adjunct Professor at Hudson County Community College.
Most well-known for his successful Buffalo Wild Wing franchise in Los Angles, Karim Webb is an Entrepreneurial Activist recognized for his philanthropy and engagement with non-profits like the California Community Foundation.
Webb has been involved in cannabis equity since 2018 when L.A. began legislating recreational cannabis. Having always seen his business ventures as a way to help people, he saw the legalization as another opportunity to expand the number of entrepreneurs on the West Coast and is stopping at nothing to do so.
Today, Karim Webb is the CEO of 4thMVMT, a Los Angeles-based firm that vets, trains, facilitates funding, and partners with individuals from underserved communities to own and operate competitive retail businesses. 4thMVMT was granted 21 social equity licenses in Los Angeles and began vetting over 200 applicants to find those individuals who made the mark. The first dispensaries operating under the 4thMVMT sponsorships, Sixty Four & Hope, have already launched with locations in Melrose and Mid-City.
Supporting an Equitable Future
A simple glance at the U.S. cannabis industry tells the story of exclusion, and the recognition of inequity is essential to writing our wrongs. Aside from breaking barriers of entry, supporting minorities owned businesses and entrepreneurs in the cannabis space is crucial to establishing a future of equitable cannabis. If you want to contribute and make a change, consider visiting Black-owned dispensaries or donating to an organization committed to amplifying minority voices in the cannabis space.