Chris Ball is clearly passionate about cannabis. A former professional football player, Chris, and his family are building a legacy in the industry with Ball Family Farms.
Who is Chris Ball?
He is a visionary leader in the marijuana industry, and his products are some of the best in the world. He recently joined a collective of Black cannabis entrepreneurs for the Black Box Project, which honored social equity applicants and Black History Month.
Ball Family Farms received its local cultivation license in 2018 through Los Angeles's social-equity program and its state license shortly thereafter, emerging as a leading producer of high-quality cannabis products in California. The brand’s flower is hand-crafted from raw and organic nutrients. Each component of their genetics is pheno-hunted, developed, and produced in-house to the most precise standards. Ball Family Farms currently offers three premium indoor strains: Daniel LaRusso (hybrid), Bonzai (sativa) and Miyagi-Do (indica).
The Black Box Project
THE BLACK BOX PROJECT was founded by LA-based BLACK-owned social equity dispensaries and leading brands to highlight the importance of equity and inclusion in cannabis while creating unity and support amongst the BLACK cannabis community. It also provided an opportunity to encourage Angelenos to buy BLACK during this year's Black history month, introducing them to the quality and culture brought to the industry by BLACK-owned brands. The dispensaries involved included Josephine & Billie’s, Gorilla Wellness RX, Sixty Four & Hope, Mid-City, and Sixty Four & Hope, Melrose District. Leaders from Ball Family Farms, Josephine & Billies, Viola, Biko, House of Tyne, and Justice Tree collaborated to put this project together under the direction of the COO of both Ball Family Farms and Josephine & Billies, Ebony Andersen.
Chris Ball Speaks on Social Equity, Generational Wealth, and His Cannabis Journey
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: What inspired you to enter the cannabis industry?
CHRIS BALL: I got involved in cannabis when I was about 16, like a lot of kids in the inner city. I started selling weed at a very young age. It wasn't as easy as I thought. The first time I smoked, I got super paranoid and didn't like it. I thought "You know what, this may not be me."
I aspired to be a pro football player, so I picked up selling weed again in Junior College; that was how I paid my tuition until I got my football scholarship to University of California-Berkeley, and a full academic scholarship, and then I put it down again. After college, I played pro sports, but it got deep when I landed in Canada to play in the CFL. I was in Vancouver, British Columbia. That’s where I first saw cannabis from seed to harvest. I fell in love with the plant, cultivation, and process. So I dabbled around, played sports, and did a little drug trafficking between Canada and the US for the next few years until I made a name for myself in Southern California.
In 2010 I was charged with conspiracy to distribute 2000 pounds of marijuana across the US. I was looking at a 10 year mandatory minimum, but I wound up pleading out for 30 months. I was actually only in prison for about a month and I was out on pretrial release for the next 4 years. By the time that was over, the judge gave me time served.
I came back to Los Angeles and bought a 14-light grow in Van Nuys, California, [applying] all I had learned from Canada. Burnt up plants for the next two years to figure out the process. I spent another two years selling products to property compliance shops until I was introduced to the Social Equity Program in 2018. That's when Ball Family Farms was born!
Ball Family Farms is a family affair! Can you talk about the importance of generational wealth?
We are a family-owned business. I started the business with my brother, now my CFO, and my cousin, our facilities manager. I also brought in honorary Ball siblings, such as Ebony Andersen, our COO; Dustin Brody, who handles the brand procurement and relations; and my head of genetics, Ashton Howarth.
I knew from being in the traditional market my entire life all the trials and tribulations; from getting robbed to people getting jealous. All those things you deal with when you're in the street or the trap. I knew if I was going to do this at a legal level I needed people around me that I loved and trusted. I taught them my habits and how I wanted to structure my company, the culture I wanted to instill.
As far as generational wealth is concerned, they go hand in hand. I wanted to get our name on a jar without having to look over my shoulder, waiting for the DEA or a fire marshal to shut down my grow.
Now that Ball Family Farms is becoming the voice of social equity, our company is taking on a whole new meaning. We’re trying to make sure that we do it right, that we stay correct and compliant, that we keep showing America that social equity can work when you have the right formula.
How did the Black Box collaboration come to fruition?
The Black Box project was spearheaded by my COO Ebony Andersen. We were involved in a project with Nugg Club and they wanted to do a box for Black History Month. We actually helped Nugg Club secure some of the social equity brands that were going to be in their box. But [by the numbers], the project started to feel like it was exploiting social equity applicants. We [asked], Why don't we have it so that it feels fair, and like we're celebrating social equity and Black history? They didn't want to do it. We left their box and program to create one on our own.
We reached out to our brothers and sisters in the space and everyone got on board in about two and a half weeks. Everybody put resources together, donated flower. We set a great price point so we all made a tiny profit. But it wasn't about the money. It was about proving that we could do it ourselves, uplifting other social equity applicants and celebrating our Black history. It sold out in two days, so it worked!
What do you see as the current reality of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in the industry?
Right now there still really isn't any. There's a concept of getting it done, but it's not being executed and the right resources aren't in place. It's extremely important because we are the ones who have carried the burdens of cannabis on our backs for the last 20 years with our families getting torn apart by the system throwing us in jail for a little weed. I definitely don't think there are enough Chris Balls in the space right now.
What does a potentially bright future for DEI in cannabis look like to you?
The social equity program needs to be run like college sports. I was a college student-athlete on a 4 year scholarship. When you go to a university as an athlete they give you free admission. They actually pay me a little money so that I can support myself and they give me free books, a free tutor, the tools I need to be successful not only as an athlete, but also as a student. The same thing needs to happen with the social equity program.
There needs to be some free financial aid to help the social equity applicant because to qualify you have to be low income. You can't afford to pay for your license or all these things that you're going to need to run a successful company. The program needs to be able to do that [and] give resources [through] a mentorship program, or consultant, who's had success in cannabis who [can teach] this social equity applicant the do's and don'ts. Graphic designers to help with branding. The list can go on.
Hopefully, more social equity applicants will start having some success, and then we can start giving back. Maybe the state and cities will start incentivizing us. If you incubate this social equity applicant, we're going to cut or relieve you of your taxes, so you can take those extra resources and invest them into another applicant. Until they understand this and listen to guys like myself who are making it work, it's going to stay broken
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs in new legal cannabis markets like NY and NJ?
Don't give out too many licenses. Designate licenses per area so the consumer only has a couple of places to go shop. If the consumer has a place on every street corner, then the money's just getting spread out. But if you got 3-5 places per borough, you can target your demographic. Those five places are going to thrive and the state's going to make their tax dollars. The [business owners] are going to be able to change their lives because the revenue’s coming in right.
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An edited version of this article first appeared in Honeysuckle's 420 print edition, featuring Lil Wayne and Young Money.