Somewhere between Beverly Hills opening its first luxury cannabis retail shop and Martha Stewart teaming up with Snoop Dogg, cannabis has officially gone Hollywood.
California’s newly legalized “recreational” market, now includes canna-“inspired” yoga classes, luxurious dinner parties to please every palate, and greater access to the medicinal benefits of the plant, expected to rake in nearly 300 million dollars in tax revenue in 2019.
Amid the glitz and glam of the modernized Los Angeles cannabis scene is a harsh reality often forgotten: the black and brown citizens who for decades were targeted, disproportionately arrested and stigmatized for possessing even the tiniest amounts of marijuana.
According to the ACLU, systemic racially motivated police enforcement has entrapped thousands in the criminal justice system impacting things like public housing, student financial aid, and even child custody determination.
One of the communities hit hardest by America’s racially motivated War on Drugs is South Los Angeles, located just eight miles south of the posh gates of Beverly Hills.
“Come take a walk down Slauson and Western and you can talk to people whose lives have been destroyed by the application of the criminal justice system in this community,” said Karim Webb, a Los Angeles native and entrepreneurial activist.
Born into a family of entrepreneurs, Webb grew up working in his father’s fast food restaurants.
“I was blessed to be born into a situation that gave me some advantages, but I never felt that made me any better than my friends or coworkers who were going home to more challenging circumstances,” said Webb.
Through his personal entrepreneurial journey, Webb expanded the Buffalo Wild Wings franchise to his local community, employing dozens of neighborhood millennials and other residents in the process.
“Working as a retail operator, you learn how to work with people who come to you in an entry-level capacity.”
In between shifts of serving wings and beer, life stories and lessons learned were exchanged, something Webb calls, “tapping into unactivated human potential.”
“Everyone has value,” explains Webb. “Sometimes, through no fault of our own, we were born into situations that leave us to believe we are not worthy.”
By mentoring this generation of young people and coming to a community whose lives were destroyed due in part to unfair policing practices, Webb had unknowingly positioned himself to fill a void missing in the new Los Angeles cannabis scene: ownership opportunities for the disenfranchised.
On Aug 3, Webb along with hundreds of others from South Los Angeles gathered in Hollywood for Manifest Equity, a pitch competition and the culmination of 10 months of intensive work, paving the way for the next generation of Los Angeles entrepreneurs. The initiative is called the 4thMVMT.
“What you see on the stage today are people performing at peak levels competing for an opportunity to have access to resources that are going to unlock equitable lives and hopefully what we’ve done over the last ten months is to develop the muscles that they can then exercise for the rest of their life whether that is owning a cannabis retail location or something else.”
There are hundreds of dispensaries located between South Los Angeles and Malibu; however, only a fraction of these are minority-owned and operated.
Even more problematic is the entryway into the legal cannabis world which is both expensive and restrictively time consuming.
To acknowledge and repair the harm caused by years of the LAPD targeting minority communities, the city of Los Angeles created a Social Equity Program to prioritize application processing for eligible applicants ownership and operation permits and licenses.
Qualifying residents must live in a neighborhood disproportionately impacted by discriminatory policing practices have an income of $42,000 or less or have a prior cannabis related arrest or conviction.
Similar social equity programs have been launched in Oakland and San Francisco; even with these programs in place, disadvantaged applicants continue to face difficulties.
According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, local residents expressed concerns regarding prohibitively long wait times. A similar report from the LA Times found maintaining commercial space during the waiting period.
Education also factors into the problems these programs are up against. Business acumen,a solid knowledge of finance, and similar experiences such as internships are required to successfully operate a business--and this can be intimidating for the most confident individual.
“Those are some of the barriers for people who look like me and come from communities like ours,” Webb explains. “We may have the drive and the passion, but we lack the access to capital along with the know how to present ideas in a way that attracts investors.”
Webb’s social equity empowerment initiative became reality after receiving an invitation from a city council member to create a program to identify potential owners, operators, and entrepreneurs who met the qualifications of the social equity program.
Webb and his team embarked on a grassroots recruiting effort identifying 700 qualified applicants. The top 120 candidates included ex-convicts, single mothers, and people like Wally Knott, III, who grew up in the South L.A. neighborhood of Leimert Park.
Knott and his fellow candidates were gathered in the Hollywood church to present ideas for community service initiatives they would fund with future profits from their yet-to-be launched dispensaries.
Knott said it was a Godsend to learn about the program and to have the opportunity to finally make his lifelong dream of owning a business in his community come true while. A few years back, Knott says he invested his life savings into a cannabis startup.
“It didn’t work and I lost everything.” Knott then fell into a deep depression. “I totally lost faith in myself. And this lasted for years.”
This adds the benefit of giving back to his neighborhood through job creation and an opportunity to mentor the next generation.
“What you see on the stage today are people performing at peak levels competing for an opportunity to have access to resources that are going to unlock equitable lives,” Webb said.
Building a business, creating income, employing and serving the community, and creating generational wealth is the hopeful outcome that drew participants like Knott to the 4thMVMT.
“We talk a lot about financial capital, but we don’t talk about the power and the benefit of really cultivating human beings and what the value is to everyone and to the entire society to have people living and thriving and behaving in ways that are consistent with their interests and everyone else's,” Webb said.