The Dope Connection is a community and technology platform amplifying diverse brands in the cannabis industry. Created by Jamila Washington and Jessica Naissant, The Dope Connection provides consumers with easy access to BIPOC cannabis businesses through cutting-edge technology such as the virtual budtender feature. As New York expands its legal cannabis market, the company stands out as a first-of-its-kind operation to spotlight social equity-driven brands joined with the mission of a Black-owned dispensary.

Honeysuckle caught up with Washington and Naissant to learn more about how The Dope Connection is transforming a younger generation of entrepreneurs' approach to merging tech, social consciousness, and plant advocacy.

The Dope Connection's Jessica Naissant

(C) Jessica Naissant

For Jessica Naissant, cannabis has been a lifelong study in healing. Her grandmother, a Haitian plant healer and shaman, convinced the young woman to pursue a career in medicine; she graduated college with a Bachelors in Biochemistry. However, Naissant was denied entry to medical school based on her conviction for low-level cannabis possession. She decided to make history instead, becoming the first Black woman owner of a CBD business on Long Island: Her Wake and Bake Cafe opened in Valley Stream in 2019. 

Jessica Naissant On Bringing BIPOC Women In Stem To Cannabis

Though Naissant was granted a Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license this summer, she says, “My role is bigger than holding a license. My intention [is] to bring a fully Black-owned dispensary to market, which meant limited fundraising and relying on my network of like-minded entrepreneurs. It’s my responsibility now to increase market share for young BIPOC women who also come from a STEM background. My goal is to show others we can be entrepreneurs of multi million dollar companies while maintaining ownership.”

In that spirit, Naissant teamed up with Jamila Washington to create The Dope Connection, a community and technology platform that amplifies diverse brands in the legal cannabis industry using AI to drive revenue growth and consumer engagement. The platform’s AI virtual budtender is one of its most unique features; it asks customers strategic questions to determine their preferences, but also shares stories behind the brands it promotes. Describing the venture as “a joint collaboration between my CAURD license and [Washington’s] data and technology company,” Naissant states that The Dope Connection “allowed us to fulfill our goals of integrating cannabis and technology amongst ‘zellenials,’ I.e Gen Z and Millennials.”

They also recently implemented REPOT BOX, a sustainability project with Monifa Foluke of Dutchie and Jamila's sister Memphis Washington. This recycling initiative confronts the issue of cannabis waste management in New York. Programs in Harlem, Brooklyn and Staten Island have been successful thus far.

Jessica Naissant On New York Cannabis And The CAURD Program

But the most important goal for the New York native is to open her dispensary as soon as possible. “Many Black and Latinx licensees have no choice but to bow out because of financial hardships and because access to startup funding is difficult in this current market,” she notes. “Oftentimes failing entrepreneurs on the West Coast come to New York and assume they can purchase our licenses for pennies on the dollar. The Dope Connection is here to hold the line as a Black woman-founded and operated dispensary in Brooklyn.”

From August to December 2023, Naissant and her team proudly launched New York City’s first three Cannabis Growers’ Showcases (CGS) in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Manhattan. The latter, curated with the Hell's Kitchen Cannabis Collective, was Midtown's only "recurring" CGS with a pop-up shop that operated at 356 West 40th Street every day until December 30th. Visitors could check out fully-legal product available from state-licensed farmers and processors. (To petition for a renewal of the CGS program, which formally ended on December 31st, please email or contact your state senators.)

More than anything, Naissant wishes for people from marginalized communities to have greater access to opportunities in the emerging industry: “My hope is that the CAURD program can be codified by the state and that more Black and brown people are able to open up cannabis businesses in New York in this upcoming license cycle.”

The Dope Connection's Jamila Washington

Jamila Washington (C) The Dope Connection

“Cannabis has always been a part of my life,” says Jamila Washington. She grew up with parents in academia and the jazz scene, constantly aware of the plant’s involvement in what she describes as “conversation, celebration, and self-care.” Now she’s progressing those conversations through The Dope Connection. 

How Does Jamila Washington Describe The Dope Connection's Mission?

“We believe that technology can help expose consumers to brands that they otherwise might miss,” the entrepreneur states of The Dope Connection’s mission. “We also believe that using technology such as our virtual budtender can help to spread brand stories and create the provider-consumer connection that creates brand loyalty over time. Where before only large corporations had access to broad narrative building tools, technology enables small scale operators to reach directly to those people who would be interested in their products. We’re excited to pilot our platform when The Dope Connection-powered dispensary in Brooklyn goes live for sales!”

Washington looks forward to her platform helping to promote other diverse brands’ success in New York’s legal market. The Dope Connection was largely sparked by her earlier experience pitching a CPG brand called Ghetto Betty to a multi-state operator in Massachusetts, and being disappointed when the meeting only focused on the etymology of the word “ghetto.” Seeking out community from other women of color in the space, the businesswoman created her own database, collecting qualitative and quantitative data with her team via partnerships and events on what brands and consumers both need. 

Jamila Washington On REPOT BOX And Cannabis Recycling

Additionally, Washington is tackling New York’s environmental issues through the project REPOT BOX, formed this spring with her sister Memphis, Naissant, and Foluke. There’s a huge problem with cannabis waste, the self-proclaimed sustainability queen describes, “First, people were lighting up all over the city, which was quite a change from the days of stop and frisk, when I last lived here. And second, the amount of cannabis packaging waste I saw on the streets was staggering. [Since launching REPOT BOX, we’ve] partnered with Cannabis NYC to bring our recycling initiative to New York City. We started in Harlem, then Brooklyn and Staten Island, targeting areas where cannabis was being bought and enjoyed. Our goal is to tackle the environmental impact of this fast-growing industry and promote responsible waste management. But we're not stopping there. We believe our initiative can be a blueprint for the entire country as the cannabis industry expands and I’m really proud of it.”

As Washington anticipates her projects forging new pathways for people everywhere in the cannabis industry despite high barriers to entry, she’s most inspired by the shared experiences between women in the space, which she says can create instant sisterhood. And when it comes to what she most wants to see product-wise, the businesswoman can’t help going back to OG roots. “Rainbow Chip [is my favorite strain] and I miss the old Sour Diesel - ready for it to come to market!”

For more about Jessica, Jamila and The Dope Connection, visit or follow @thedopeconnection on Instagram. To learn more about REPOT BOX, visit

*A version of this article originally appeared in Honeysuckle's 17th print edition, featuring Havoc of Mobb Deep. Get your copy now at a local dispensary or click here to order!

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Featured image: The Dope Connection co-founders Jessica Naissant and Jamila Washington as featured in Honeysuckle's 17th print edition, available in stores.