By Tahir Johnson
The purpose of this series is to inspire more people of color to pursue opportunities in the cannabis by highlighting the stories of those that look like us and have achieved success so that we follow their blueprints as well as support the businesses and endeavors of BIPOC as we look to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion. These ten ladies and gentlemen were some of my biggest inspirations and supporters when I was starting out and continue to make moves to help progress the industry today.
Hope Wiseman - Reading about Hope Wiseman in Ebony magazine back in 2018 was what inspired me to get into the cannabis industry. Hope is the youngest African-American woman in the United States to own a cannabis dispensary, with her company Mary & Main. On 4/20 this year she also launched an educational platform The 420 Experience. An alumna of Spelman College, she started her career in Investment Banking, and recognized the opportunity for generational wealth that the industry would present, and pursued the opportunity to transition into cannabis.
Shanita Penny - Shanita Penny is a cannabis activist, thought leader, and entrepreneur. The founder and CEO of Budding Solutions, a cannabis consulting and management firm and past president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association she is one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. A certified Project Management Professional and Lean Six Sigma Green Belt she spent years as a management consultant helping Fortune 500 companies solve complex issues and improve business performance prior to transitioning to cannabis. Her expertise has led her to testify before Congress on behalf of cannabis businesses and many other accomplishments. As I was trying to figure out the cannabis industry Shanita was one of the most valuable people. She was the one that taught me about lobbying, the process of applying for a cannabis license, and the value of advocacy. Shanita is an alumna of North Carolina A&T, and if not for meeting her through a connection in our HBCU network I would not have known who, what, where, and when I needed to know and be to make it into this industry.
Dr Chanda Macias - Dr Chanda Macias the CEO of multiple successful cannabis enterprises including Women Grow and National Holistic Healing Center. She has a PhD in Cell Biology, and extensive experience researching cancer and infectious diseases. Dr Chanda recently made history partnering with Southern University to launch its own line of cannabis products via Ilera Holistic Healthcare, making it the first HBCU to do so. A Howard University alum and former professor she took me under her wing and has helped to share valuable advice and wisdom to help advance my career ever since I met her at a Women Grow event in DC years ago.
Mary Pryor - Mary Pryor is the co-founder of Cannaclusive. The organization was created in order to facilitate fair representation of minority cannabis consumers. She is the brains behind projects like The Accountability List, InclusiveBase, and a catalog of stock photos featuring BIPOCs. I met Mary at the first cannabis event I ever attended that I traveled back home to Trenton, New Jersey for and she has been an inspiration ever since.
Leo Bridgewater - Leo is a veteran and cannabis advocate who was instrumental in getting PTSD listed as one of the approved qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in the state. He was recently honored and with his own cannabis strain by a Harmony Dispensary in New Jersey. I also met Leo Bridgewater at my first cannabis event. Once he found out that we shared the same hometown of Trenton where so many of our people of color have been victims of the war on drugs he’s looked out for me like a big brother.
Kevin Ford Jr - Kevin Ford Jr is the founder and CEO of Uplift, a company that he founded to increase diversity and inclusion in the cannabis industry. In June, he put on the Uplift Cannabis Diversity Symposium which brought together over 70 cannabis experts of color to share their experiences and educate on opportunities to transition into the cannabis industry. Back in 2018 Kevin won two contracts from the state of Maryland to provide business development and cannabis license application training which I enrolled in as I set out to apply for licenses myself at that time. Once I decided that I wanted to be in this industry I started out attending local cannabis regularly and he would often be the only other black man in the room which solidified our bond and he’s been one of my best friends in the industry ever since.
Caroline Phillips - Caroline is the visionary behind the National Cannabis Festival, an event that attracts almost 25,000 cannabis enthusiasts to the District of Columbia for a day of dope music, cyphers, a policy summit, and a pitch competition. The festival has featured performers like Ludacris, Talib Kweli, Cypress Hill, Backyard Band, and Action Bronson. Method Man & Redman were scheduled as headliners of the 2020 festival before it was cancelled by coronavirus. I was the runner up in the 2019 Cannatank Pitch Competition which helped to build my confidence that I could have a place in the cannabis industry. I told my mom that I planned to quit my career in finance and pursue cannabis full time at one of the events leading up to the festival that year which was also the first time that I met Caroline. She is also a Howard alum.
Kaliko Castille - Kaliko Castille started his career in cannabis as an intern at NORML in 2011 and held various positions there before going on to open a dispensary, Brightside in Portland Oregon, shortly after the plant became legal in the state. After joining the National Cannabis Industry Association as a Business Development Officer he went on to become the the Head of Growth, then Director of Marketing. Meeting him at the Minority Cannabis Industry Association’s Lobby Day had to be the greatest strokes of fate in my career. As I prepared for my first lobbying experience not knowing what our goal was I asked him, “If one of my boys is the Chief of Staff for a Congressman should I hit him up?” That day I let him know that I was interested in an open position I saw there at NCIA, not knowing he was the hiring manager, and the rest is history. Kaliko is leaving this week to start his own marketing and consulting firm.
Khadijah Tribble - Khadijah Tribble is the VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at Curaleaf, the largest vertically integrated cannabis company in the United States. An alumna of the Harvard Kennedy School with a Masters in Public Health she is one of the industry’s leading experts on policy and social equity. Before joining Curaleaf Khadija founded Marijuana Matters, and the Marijuana Policy Trust. I met Khadijah before I had made the transition to cannabis from finance. She had just finished her MPH and was getting Marijuan Matters going. When I told her I was ready to quit my job to be her intern she advised me against it but has continued to be a mentor
David Hernandez - David Hernandez is the COO of The Happy Munkey, New York City’s leading cannabis lifestyle brand and destination. A virtuoso of cannabis culture he specializes in branding, marketing and operations. He previously served as the director of the Maryland chapter of Cannagether where he helped to grow the organization’s presence in the DMV market. One of the first friends I made in the cannabis industry he got me a ticket for my first cannabis conference. I visited Happy Munkey for the first time in 2019 and celebrated my new role at NCIA there after attending my first event on the job in NYC and I’m happy to be a part of the family writing for the blog.
About the Author
Tahir Johnson is the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Manager at The National Cannabis Industry Association and a former investment advisor. Text me at (202) 952-1146, connect with me on LinkedIn, follow @tahdiddy on Instagram and Twitter, or for more cannabis and investing insights.
*Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer