By Cassady Fendlay
Remember when we used to believe that legalizing cannabis would help reverse all the damage done by its prohibition? As much talk as there has been about ensuring racial equity in cannabis, the statistics on the industry today are pretty dismal. Nationwide, only about 22 percent of cannabis businesses are woman-owned, and Black cannabis entrepreneurs account for less than 2 percent of marijuana businesses.
What Is Grand Legacy Group? Black And Women-Owned Craft Cannabis
Enter Grand Legacy Group (GLG), a craft-grown cannabis firm in Elgin, Illinois, which is owned by eight Black founding partners, three of whom are women. I had the chance to talk to two of them, Chrissy Johnson and Rod Collins, about social equity in the industry and their vision for the company, which extends beyond cultivating the highest quality, craft grown cannabis.
“One of the reasons that numbers are disproportionately low is because many minority-owned firms don’t have enough access to financing,” says Rod. “Getting licenses is only the first step. Then they are forced to sell to the big, multi-state operators because they can’t afford the bureaucratic red tape.”
It’s a challenge Grand Legacy Group has overcome so far, he says. GLG hopes to one day reach the vertical integration that makes so many white-owned firms profitable, but their recent application for a dispensary wasn’t selected during Illinois’ lottery. For now, that dream is on the shelf and the organization paid another $40,000 to renew a craft grow license that they can’t operate on yet.
“These kinds of hurdles are what many minority-owned businesses aren’t able to overcome,” Rod explains. “We want to be a roadmap on how to come together as one and build something that can stand the test of time.”
What Is Grand Legacy Group's Social Equity Vision In Illinois Cannabis?
Chrissy notes that that’s part of the reason for their name: Grand Legacy. “Creating a legacy is our guiding light and the barometer for every decision we make. Leaving a legacy goes far beyond generational wealth; it’s about creating beacons of hope for those who have historically been shut out of opportunities to thrive.”
Chrissy, Rod, and all of GLG’s partners all come from resource-deprived areas of Chicagoland and know what it’s like to live in a community with disadvantages like lack of access, unfair treatment, and lack of opportunity for advancement. It’s what drives their shared passion for creating pathways for others.
“Oftentimes, people just need an opportunity to excel,” says Rod, who grew up in Chicago's West Pullman neighborhood. “In certain communities, great opportunities may be far and few in between, but the people are ready to seize them and succeed.”
How Did Grand Legacy Group's Founders Come Together In Cannabis?
Rod is a business leader in the utility sector, who started a Black entrepreneurs group in 2018, to bring business-minded folks together to brainstorm opportunities. A few members of the team, including Chrissy, were part of the initial brainstorming session. Chrissy is a licensed professional in the mental health field, and although she’s not a cannabis consumer, she’s passionate about countering the stigma around cannabis and creating more pathways for health, wellbeing and prosperity in Black and low-income communities.
They saw an opportunity in cannabis presented to them by one of Grand Legacy's co-founders, Anthony Mitchell, and they brought a few members on as partners. The team consists of spouses, relatives, and friends of over 25 years. “We really are a family,” says Chrissy.
Still, she stresses the value of diversity and inclusion that goes beyond the founders’ personal identities and experiences. “We strive to provide job opportunities to people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, beliefs, and orientation,” she says. “This gives everyone involved the chance to learn from one another and take the best parts of everyone for the betterment of the entire organization.”
“There is a tremendous amount of diversity within our local communities that we are able to tap into and provide opportunities, so those residents can in turn pour back into the community in which they live,” says Rod. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”
How Does Grand Legacy Group Give Back To The Community?
Grand Legacy’s founders are also pouring back into the communities they live in, from serving food at homeless shelters to helping build a community garden on the south side of Chicago.
“Philanthropy is more than just giving money, it is the giving of your time, your talent, and your treasure,” says Chrissy. “Not only have we made monetary donations to several worthy causes and community organizations, we also have donated our time and our talents.”
Rod brings it back to the organization’s guiding light: their legacy. “We are striving to create meaningful connections with people; particularly connecting and serving as motivation and inspiration for underserved communities. As entrepreneurs, we want to represent how success in Black business ownership promotes positive changes, economic growth, and support for a variety of social causes within the community.”
Talking with Chrissy and Rod, I was aware of how much it matters who our business leaders are and what values they hold. Regardless of industry, we need entrepreneurs who are making choices that recirculate dollars locally, create quality jobs and actually improve the communities in which they operate.
Even better, Grand Legacy Group adds to the diversity of the cannabis industry. When they receive support, firms owned by minorities and women have a tendency to incubate others, expanding diversity beyond their initial footprint. And that’s the kind of change this increasingly homogenous industry needs. Hopefully, a legacy to be proud of.
To learn more about Grand Legacy Group, visit grandlegacygroup.com.
Cassady Fendlay is a writer and strategist who has been behind the scenes of several major mobilizations for social justice and human liberation from systemic oppression. You can find more about her work on Medium. Connect with her on LinkedIn and at @cfendlay on Instagram.
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Featured image: The founding partners of Grand Legacy Group (C) Grand Legacy Group LLC