By Tahir Johnson
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to support my boy, Seun Adedeji, attending the grand opening of his dispensary Elev8 Cannabis in Athol, Massachusetts and had the honor of being the first person to make a purchase when he opened his doors. His accomplishment was historic in a number of ways. Not only is Seun the youngest black man in the country to own a dispensary, but he has built a multi-state operating cannabis business that spans from east to west coasts with dispensaries in both Oregon and Massachusetts, and was only the second black owned retail location to open its doors in the state.
Seun is one of the most modest, hard working, thoughtful, kind and worst Monopoly playing people that I’ve gotten to know. His motto at Elev8 Cannabis is to treat everyone like gold and he truly embodies that. We met about a year and a half ago a little before I started in my role at the National Cannabis Industry Association. At the time he had already been operating in Oregon and held the accolade of being the youngest in the game and I was just getting started. I reached out to him cold on LinkedIn telling him that I had just applied for a license and had dreams of doing it big in the cannabis industry and wanted to connect and he took my call. I'm happy that we've gotten to know each other well, and become close friends in such a short amount of time since that first conversation. It's been said many times before that if you're the smartest person in your crew you might need a new one so I'm thankful to have brothers like Seun in my circle to keep me elevated.
I usually would have been attending Howard Homecoming this week so making the road trip from Maryland up to Massachusetts gave me the black family vibes I was missing. Feeling the comradery of brothers and sisters that traveled from Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and around the country to celebrate the momentous occasion along with my bro's joy, knowing the years of sacrifice that he put in to get there was beautiful. As the day wound down I couldn't help but be proud as I looked around struck by the dichotomy of this young black man legally selling Marijuana with lines wrapped around the store in the ninety-six percent white town of Athol to the jubilant praise of its community leaders who also attended the ribbon cutting. Blacks own less than 5% of licensed cannabis business in the United States and are almost 4x more likely to be arrested for the same plant, while the legal industry is projected to bring in $30 billion in revenue by 2025. In Massachusetts alone they’ve tallied $972 million in retail cannabis sales since the launch of the adult use cannabis program in November 2018. Statistically everything we know about the current state of the legal cannabis industry says he shouldn't be here. He immigrated to this country from Nigeria, was arrested for cannabis at a young age, doesn't have a prestigious university on his resume, but elevated himself to achieve what they say can't be done. I want to be clear this is not just a Black one, but a classic American Success story in the making. Growing up in the 90s I was inspired by Puff and Jay-Z in awe of the dynasties they built with Bad Boy and Rocafella. We're still in the early innings of the cannabis industry, like they were then in Hip-Hop and witnessing the “release of Reasonable Doubt” in real time as Seun builds Elev8.
Tahir Johnson is the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Manager at The National Cannabis Industry Association and host of The Cannabis Diversity Report podcast. Text me at (202) 952-1146, connect with me on LinkedIn, follow @tahdiddy on Instagram and Twitter, for more cannabis and investing insights.
*Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer