Social equity has been a major focus of New York’s cannabis reform law. Social fairness and business have become inseparably linked in the language of the law, as the legalization of the rapidly growing and competitive cannabis industry has also meant providing the greatest possible participation to the communities most affected by its historic ban. , according to state officials.
To that end, New York has set itself the goal of granting half of its licenses to applicants from minority and social equity backgrounds and developing education plans aimed at those communities on how best to obtain such licenses. The law also includes low-cost loans and incubator programs to help minority entrepreneurs enter the business.
As Valley Stream village officials deliberate on the future of cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption lounges, Esther Lelievre, 34, an educational advisor with community roots in the village, and Jessica Naissant, 27, a resident and owner of the hemp-based home Wake and Bake Cafe on Rockaway Avenue, have already started making strides in the industry. Together, they created a five-person Equity and Entrepreneurship of Color Support Group, unofficially known as Cannigroup.
Cannigroup’s goal, according to Lelièvre, is to provide minority entrepreneurs with a more comprehensive assessment of the developing market through the sharing of professional experience and expertise. Each member is currently looking to venture into a specific segment of the industry, whether it’s a licensed dispensary and culture, or ancillary opportunities such as marketing, transportation, and recruiting. Collaborative business groups like these are helping minority entrepreneurs gain a foothold in an industry that suffers from a glaring lack of diversity and inclusion among its top investors and business owners who, statistics show, are mostly white. The Herald spoke to Lelièvre and Naissant about the prospects and challenges of entering the market.
The conversation has been edited and condensed.
Herald: What are some of the entry barriers or challenges that you can identify for minority business owners?
Lelièvre: Capital is part of it. Most states have not met their social equity figures as long as it is socially fair for those affected by the war on drugs.
The current industry establishment has kept information very close to its chest to ensure that more and more of us are not involved in the process. The reality is that we, the people of color, are the reason the industry is what it is now. They imitate our style and our culture to attract people to their stores. We are still a predominant part of the buying market in the world.
Emerging: Not to mention that there was a lot of misinformation even before recreational use by adults was legalized, but even more so before medicinal cannabis. It once seemed like a stretch to enter the industry without having millions of dollars or any kind of support from a government program to enter the industry, as there was essentially no information to be obtained when opening. a medical or recreational marijuana dispensary. There has been this whole underground cannabis club that most minorities are not part of.
Herald: How would an incubator model designed to facilitate entry of entrepreneurs into the business help advance social equity?
Lelievre: Personally, I think that would be helpful because there are companies that invest in small businesses that are looking to operate the cannabis industry that don’t necessarily have the capital. The application process alone costs tens of thousands of dollars, without even the accounting for retail space and inventory. With the incubator program, you have a foundation you can build on rather than starting from scratch. I don’t think New York has done enough to provide this opportunity to enough people when it comes to investment, access to grants and major industries putting social equity first.
Herald: What are the different uses of cannabis products?
Lelièvre: As a former cancer patient and working with many people with lupus, traditional medicines are often hard on your body and people are turning to herbs such as cannabis as more suitable alternatives. The military is even considering cannabis therapy to help veterans with PTSD. You can use cannabis in gels, creams, and topicals.
Emerging: There are so many ways to use cannabis now, when there were none before. You can even condense it and turn it into wax and butters. People are more and more educated on how to micro-dose and use cannabis for more medicinal components. It helps migraine, it helps menopause, hormonal regulation, appetite suppression, convulsions. I mean, the list goes on and on.