This list of cannabis industry insiders is by no means a complete rundown of all the BIPOC leaders taking charge of the sector. However, they are some of the most notable and history-making. These are the people behind the scenes of your favorite Black-owned Cannabis organizations and businesses. There are a growing number of Black leaders who are shaping the cannabis industry. These individuals are entrepreneurs, executives, and activists working to ensure that people of color have a voice in the rapidly growing industry.
Celebrating Black Cannabis Business Executives & Regulators
Why should we recognize Black ownership in the cannabis industry?
In our last segment of this series,Black Leaders in Cannabis You Should Know, we noted that it is crucial to highlight small businesses and organizations led by Black people in cannabis because of how rare it is. Currently, only an estimated 2% of companies among the nearly 30,000 nationwide are Black-owned. Recently the state of New Jersey made headlines when Representative Donald Payne Jr released a statement that highlighted the state’s failure to award any new cannabis industry licenses to Black business owners. It is important to note that despite the difficulty of gaining access, many Black people have found ways to succeed in the industry and make space for their communities in the industry.
Cannabis is a billion-dollar industry that has grown exponentially in the past decade. With legalization, it will only continue to grow and flourish. The cannabis industry provides many opportunities for entrepreneurs to get involved. However, there is a lack of representation for black entrepreneurs and executives in the cannabis industry.
What problems do Black-owned Cannaprenuers face when entering the legal market, compared to white companies?
As in most businesses, many of the issues black people face in trying to become owners in the space have to do with lack of access to proper funding channels and apparent bias in the face of bank lenders. There is also a deficit of information regarding what steps a business owner would need to comply with the terms set out by their individual state’s approach to the legal cannabis market.
What impact has marijuana criminalization had on the Black community?
Black and brown people continue to be the communities disproportionately impacted negatively by Cannabis prohibition. African Americans are disproportionately affected by arrests for drug violations than any other race, particularly when it comes to cannabis. The war on drugs has been a failure, and it is time for new policies that will allow people to use marijuana legally without fear of arrest or imprisonment.
The legalization of cannabis is a social justice issue. It is time for the government to stop punishing people of color for using marijuana, especially when it has been shown that white people use it at similar or higher rates than black and brown people.
Who are some of the Black cannabis business executives and industry regulators?
The cannabis industry is growing rapidly, and Black leaders must be involved in shaping its future. These individuals play a crucial role in ensuring that the Black community benefits from the cannabis boom.
Dasheeda Dawson, founder of The WeedHead & Co and Head of City of Portland Cannabis Program
Dasheeda Dawson is one of the most well-known Black cannabis entrepreneurs, advocates, and regulators. In 2020, Dawson became the third Black woman in the United States to become a cannabis officiator for a city government. Acclaimed entrepreneur and advocate Dawson has become Portland’s lead strategist. Portland’s Office of Community & Civic Life officially appointed Dawson to the role of Cannabis Program Supervisor. The groundbreaking move was made to strengthen a municipal government agency’s goals for non-biased regulation with the unique expertise Dawson brings as a Black pioneer of the global cannabis movement.
Dawson is the founder of The WeedHead™ & Company, a cannabis education and lifestyle brand, and the author of “How to Succeed in the Cannabis Industry,” as well as an award-winning F100 Strategist. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Rutgers Business School and a former corporate marketing executive. On New Year’s Eve 2018, she made history as the head of the first-ever Black-owned cannabis company to be featured in a Times Square promotional campaign.
When asked about adult cannabis use, Dawson previously said, “The war on cannabis was really a war on people. The arrests were due to cannabis possession, not distribution, and the lies that were told around that were just not the reality. Black and Indigenous and Latinx individuals were the ones that were targeted and overpoliced through racially biased enforcement. It is almost impossible in my opinion to not take to regulation a policy with that lens, and as a Black woman, that’s what I understand first and foremost.”
Gia Moron, President, Women Grow, and founder of GVM Communications
When Gia Moron first came to be a part of Women Grow, she noticed the lack of diversity in the room. Women Grow is recognized as the preeminent national networking organization for women in cannabis. Morón, an award-winning communications executive, went from its New York City market leader to its president. Along with W.G.’s Chair and CEO, Dr. Chanda Macias, Morón has changed the professional landscape for women of color. While she has worked hard to make W.G. a more diverse organization, she still sees work to be done in the industry.
“Sadly, women haven’t had a voice in the development of any of the industries that we see operating today, which is why this work is so exciting. Here [Chanda and I] are, two women of color, leading a company [where] we are here for all women. The hope [is that] at some point we don’t have to talk about the inclusion of women and WOC… [that instead] we are naturally, consistently operating in an inclusive, diverse industry. That we still have to push for inclusion tells me we have more work to do. I want to see all women lead and win at whatever level they consider success.”
Marvin Washington, Vice President of Business Development and Board Member for Isodiol
Marvin Washington was a National Football League (NFL) player for eleven years and is a legend in the cannabis community! Over the past decade, he has invested in several cannabis enterprises (most prominently the industrial hemp derivative/extraction company Isodiol). The companies he invests in, such as Isodiol and Lenitiv Labs (a cannabis manufacturing company founded by media personality Montel Williams), are businesses recognized for employing African Americans at every level. As an advocate, he supported grassroots organizations such as the Cannabis Cultural Association and Women Grow and has remained a devoted activist in the fight to get medicinal marijuana removed from the NFL’s “banned substances” list.
“Cannabis was a seven billion-dollar industry last year,” Washington has previously said. “People of color, we’re [profiting] less than two percent [off of that], all the way from dispensaries, to grows, to real estate… But we’re still getting arrested anywhere from five to twelve times more than our [white] counterparts. When it was illegal all over the country, we participated more than two percent in arrests, incarcerations, fines, and what have you. So I want a level playing field. The communities that were disproportionately punished should participate in the upswing. We don’t want to do ‘business as usual – we want a better business. I don’t want to see this new industry that’s going to be twenty-five billion dollars by 2025 [keep] people of color just as consumers.”
Leo Bridgewater, founder of BridgeH2O LLC and partner, Heart Community Capital
Leo Bridgewater is a New Jersey native well known in the cannabis industry and advocacy circles. Bridgewater is a veteran who served three tours of duty in the Army and a former Defense Department contractor who worked as a specialist in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since completing his tours, he has become a medical marijuana patient and vocal advocate who uses the plant to manage the trauma he sustained as a result of his service.
In 2016, he testified alongside other veterans before a state Senate committee to urge lawmakers to adopt PTSD as a qualifying medical condition for medical marijuana. Since then, he has stated dedicated to advocating for veterans, especially in the cannabis space. He is a National Director of Veterans Outreach, co-founder of the N.J. Cannabis Commission, New Jersey Chapter President of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, and a part of many other cannabis-related endeavors. He also serves as the Director of Veteran Outreach for MM4M.
Bridgewater has always been slightly ahead of the curve. Three years ago, as one of the speakers for CannaGather New Jersey, he gave this extremely timely advice: “I asked this question to a number of people in this room a little earlier today, and I asked: ‘What is today’s date?’ And everyone said January 29, 2019. Wrong! Wrong! It’s April 3, 2022. If you are serious about this industry, if you are serious about what you are doing about this, you actually should be doing paperwork that has executables for at least 2022,” said Bridgewater during the keynote.
Cat Packer, Executive Director of L.A. Department of Cannabis Regulation
In 2017, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Cat Packer as the city’s first executive director of the Department of Cannabis Regulation. Packer advises the City of Los Angeles on cannabis law, policy, and regulation and oversees the City’s licensed commercial cannabis market. Since then, she has been a staunch advocate for equality and inclusivity and has helped the city make improvements towards equitable ownership within its regulatory infrastructure. L.A. is America’s second-largest city and the epicenter for California cannabis, and Packer has worked intentionally to address several matters from licensing to the illicit market. Initially, she intended to be a civil rights attorney focusing on LGBT rights. In 2012 when Colorado and Washington legalized adult use, her focus shifted. After graduating, she began working with The Drug Policy Alliance and the 2016 Ohio campaign for adult-use legalization before moving on to L.A.
Both Packer and Portland leader Dasheeda Dawson are members of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC), a coalition of elected and appointed minority cannabis regulators and lawmakers.
Hope Wiseman, Mary & Main
Former investment banker, dancer for the Atlanta Falcons, and reality show personality Hope Wiseman is no stranger to excellence. A Maryland native, Wiseman is the youngest Black woman to own a marijuana dispensary in the U.S. At the age of 25, Wiseman founded Mary and Main, a dispensary located in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The dispensary serves as a place for people to purchase medical cannabis and a center for learning about the plant and about the effects of the “war on drugs” that has disproportionately affected minority communities.
Through her work with Mary and Main, Wisemen has been able to witness how cannabis has helped her clients. Observing these experiences showed Wiseman that the cannabis industry was not only economically attractive but powerful as well. “I really understood the level of impact I could make on someone’s life through Mary and Main.”
Wiseman is also one of the co-founders of Compassionate Herbal Alternatives (CHA). This organization targets those who have been incarcerated or otherwise negatively affected by America’s “war on drugs”, and trains them to land an entry-level position in a licensed Maryland cannabis facility.
Jesce Horton, founder of LOWD Cannabis and Original Founder of the Minority Cannabis Business Association
Jesce Horton is the co-founder and CEO of LOWD, a Portland-based company that grows some of the most high-end cannabis in Oregon. LOWD, which stands for Love Our Weed Daily (“loud” is also slang for high-quality marijuana), is an award-winning cannabis company that sells some of their state’s most popular craft cannabis flowers. Horton was spurred to found the company in 2019 in an attempt to reclaim some of the economic opportunity present in the legal market for communities who have been hurt by America’s decades-long war on drugs.
As an early Black cannabis pioneer and advocate, he also helped establish the Minority Cannabis Business Association as one of its original founders, The organization promotes economic empowerment in communities of color by helping create policy, social programming, and outreach initiatives.
Jeannette Ward Horton Co-founder and CEO of the NuLeaf Project
Jeannette Ward Horton is not only Jesce Horton’s wife, but a cannabis industry pioneer within her own right! Horton is co-founder and CEO of NuLeaf Project, an organization focused on bringing wealth and opportunities in the legal cannabis industry for members of the communities most harmed by the war on drugs, specifically Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. She is also one of the original founding members of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and former Chief Marketing Officer of Akerna, a publicly traded cannabis technology company (the first women-led cannabis company to be listed on NASDAQ). Horton chairs the 80-person statewide coalition which has developed multiple Oregon equity bills, including the current SB 1579 Equity Investment Act. The Equity Investment Act seeks to close the gap between communities prospering in the cannabis industry and those which have been the most disproportionately impacted by overpolicing and systemic issues. Through the act, jobs will be created, and various pathways will be established for entrepreneurship, home ownership, workforce development, and generational wealth for Black, Indigenous and Latinx residents. As of this week, the bill is headed to the Oregon Senate for a vote! For more information, visit oregonequityact.com.
“This is a unique opportunity for Oregon to pass the most comprehensive cannabis equity program in the country. Legalizing cannabis was step one. Investing cannabis taxes into economic and opportunity-building for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities and automatic expungement for thousands of Oregonians starts to repair the harm of over-policing and cannabis criminalization,” said Horton while working with the coalition to pass the House Bill 3112 (the Cannabis Social Equity Act) in 2021, which established the Cannabis Equity Board within the Office of the Governor.
Whitney Beatty, CEO/Founder of Josephine & Billie’s, and The Apothecarry, and Board Member of Supernova Women
Whitney Beatty is a successful entertainment industry executive turned cannabis industry badass. She is known for many things including celebrating women of color and motherhood via her Instagram account, “The High Mommy Life.” Inspired by a lack of stylish, safe cannabis storage systems Beatty founded Apothecarry Brands, a luxury brand for finer accessories for cannabis connoisseurs. She also founded Josephine’s and Billie’s billed as “the nation’s first dispensary designed by and for women of color” on the website. The dispensary is a call back to the speakeasies of the Jazz Age and is a space dedicated to introducing women of color to the benefits of cannabis.
As an advocate, she serves as the Vice President of the Board for Supernova Women, an organization started by Black and Brown women, that works to empower Black and Brown people to be “self-sufficient shareholders” within the Cannabis industry.
Stay tuned for the final part of the Black History Month Series-Keep up with the story!
Stay tuned for our last story in the Black History Month series, where we delve into some of the Black Celebrities using their art and platforms to make waves in the cannabis industry.
Check out the first two stories in the series: Cannabis and Black History Month: A Brief Timeline of How the Two are Linked, and Black Leaders in Cannabis You Should Know: Part Two of Honeysuckle’s Black History Month Series.