By Dante Jordan
It’s hard being Black in cannabis. Between the difficulties of licensing, education, and funding, anyone who is in the game should be celebrated. If you’ve been looking to improve how you can support Black people in the industry, shopping at Black-owned dispensaries would be an excellent start.
Here are 6 Black-owned stores in California. Please shop at them for longer than just February.
California Street Cannabis Company
Location: San Francisco, CA
Located in the heart of Nob Hill, California Street Cannabis Company is a cannabis dispensary majority-owned by Drakari Donaldson.
Photo: California Street Cannabis Company owner Drakari Donaldson.
It doesn’t get much more San Francisco than Drakari Donaldson. He was born there, grew up in Potrero Hill and North Beach there, went to Thurgood Marshall high school there, graduated college from UC Merced there and now, at age 25, he owns his first business there.
Drakari is a beneficiary of San Francisco’s social equity program, which requires you meet 3 of 6 requirements to get a license. With that, he was able to open California Street’s doors in January 2020. The year was challenging, yet still rewarding, as California St shakes past the ills of the pandemic to continue growing.
“Experiencing the pandemic, experiencing the racial injustices happening right here in our neighborhood, and we were also victims of the lootings happening that time. But we’ve managed to not only survive, but we’ve been doing really well,” Donaldson tells me of the challenges they’ve overcome, which he credits to his business partners, community support, and his amazing staff members.
As California Street Cannabis readies to open its second location on Clement St, Drakari’s hope for the future lies in changes to the IRS’ 280E tax law, which prohibits cannabis business from writing off business operating expenses, and some updates to the social equity 10-year restriction on selling more than 50% of your business. “It's almost like yeah, they created this opportunity for people like me to get into a business that destroyed our communities, but there is no actual way to make money.”
Location: Berkeley, CA
If you talk about family businesses in cannabis, you’re talking about Farmacy Berkeley.
Farmacy is a cannabis dispensary located in Berkeley, CA. It was brought to life in partnership with Glass House Group, but is majority-owned by Kiki Genama, her significant other Jamaal Taylor, and his mother Sue Taylor.
Photo: The Farmacy family: (from left to right) Steve Deangelo, Founder of Harborside; Kitshwa "Kiki" Genama, Founder of Farmacy Berkeley, General Manager; Sue Taylor, Founder Farmacy Berkeley and National spokeswoman for Seniors and Cannabis; and Jamaal Taylor, Founder Farmacy Berkeley.
New to the recreational space, the family of serial entrepreneurs has long existed in this industry, dating all the way back to 2009 when they opened a medical dispensary named iCANN. Over time, that business ceased existence, but in 2016 Genama and the Taylors reentered the industry after securing a license from the city of Berkeley. For some years they lobbied for funding, and after partnering with Glass House in 2019, Farmacy Berkeley was able to open on February 6, 2020.
As you can imagine, opening right as Covid-19 hit, hasn’t been the easiest. They’ve had to adjust to new shopping protocols, and during the social uprisings this summer, their store was looted four times. “We, like all retail businesses, were victims of burglaries. That actually was a blessing in disguise. They busted out our windows and front doors, and I turned two windows into curbside service windows,” Kiki tells me over Zoom.
With all the challenges faced, Farmacy has still managed to thrive in the middle of a pandemic. “I would just say it’s the community. We’ve been a blessing to them, they’ve been a blessing to us,” says Genema.
Moving forward, one of Kiki and Farmacy Berkeley’s biggest goals is to provide a space for smaller, social equity brands. “Something that's been very challenging is not being able to open the floodgates of all the equity brands and people in the industry that we saw struggling alongside us. Every time we sit down and look at buying, it’s like hey where can we make room for such and such, even if the margins don’t support us picking up that brand at this time.”
Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance
Location: Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance is a cannabis store in Santa Cruz geared towards serving military veterans. In discussion with Seth Smith, one of the company’s partners and Chief Compliance Officer, he tells me SCVA’s mission is to help veterans find relief from PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc.
Photo: Seth Smith, SCVA partner and Chief Compliance Officer.
Seth was born and raised in Fresno, CA. He’s a UCLA graduate, Stanford post-graduate, and navy veteran that was led to medical cannabis after donating a kidney to his mother in 2013. During his recovery, Seth needed to be on painkillers, and immediately he understood the negatives that come from popping pain pills on a regular basis. This is when he chose cannabis as a healthier alternative. In 2016, he started working with Santa Cruz Veteran’s Alliance, and the rest is history.
When it comes to challenges faced, like many minority cannabis entrepreneurs, the answer comes down to funding.“Access to capital is the primary challenge that we face. As an African American entrepreneur in this space, that’s huge. Both of my partners are white. For whatever reason, anytime we’ve raised capital, it’s been from a Caucasian that completely trusts us. I can’t seem to sell it to anyone, which is odd.” On how this changes, Seth continues “We’re not sure what has to happen for that to improve, other than it becoming legal and us having access to banking.”
Location: Palm Desert, CA
Royal Highness is an impressive cannabis boutique located in the Southwest Medical Plaza of Palm Desert. It is majority-owned by Keyva King, from San Bernardino, California, in partnership with two others. It is an absolute beauty of a shop.
Photo: (left to right) Kiyah and Keyva King, CEO of Royal Highness.
Royal Highness was inspired by Keyva’s sister, Leticia, passing from lupus in 2014. After this, Keyva started Pleasure Principles, a nonprofit cannabis delivery service for people in need. Her biggest clientele base was AIDS patients in the LBGTQ+ community. In 2018, when recreational cannabis became legal in California, laws changed that outlawed delivery services that didn’t have a brick and mortar retail location. This began Keyva’s transition from Pleasure Principles to Royal Highness.
In transition, Keyva had a conversation with the CEO of Cannadescent, who told her that she needed to change her name for marketing purposes. “With Pleasure Principles, people thought they were dialing 1-800-SEX,” she says of the change. Since Keyva and Leticia King referred to themselves as the Queens, Keyva went with something royal, and voila: Royal Highness the cannabis boutique was born.
Photo: Keyva King runs this beautiful dispensary in Palm Desert.
Royal Highness is one of five merit-based licenses that come from California. What this means is to obtain their license, Keyva and her partners had to prove they had a profitable business plan in place, funding available, as well as show evidence that they’ve run successful businesses before, ultimately needing to win a points-system-based lottery to get a license. Out of the five merit-based licenses issued, Keyva is the sole African American to have one.
On the changes in the industry she’d like to see, Keyva says “I’d like to see more access for non-social equity participants.” What this means is more access for Black people who haven’t been to prison for cannabis related charges, or that don’t meet the requirements for the very limited amount of social equity cannabis licenses, but still want an opportunity to thrive in an industry that African Americans traditionally can’t afford to even consider entering.
Locations: LA Headquarters, Crenshaw, Melrose
California Cannabis Company is owned by social equity pioneer Virgil Grant. You may recognize him from BET’s SMOKE documentary, you may also recognize him from the streets of Compton. In his younger years, Virgil built himself quite the reputation as the one who had weed on deck. He served all the celebrities and rappers like Coolio, Eazy-E, WC, MC 8, and more. “I just kind of became the known guy for the best product,” he tells CannaCraft.
Photo: Virgil Grant is a pioneering cannabis activist and owner of three California Cannabis dispensaries in Southern California.
In time, Virgil was raided by the feds, and ended up doing 6 years in the federal penitentiary. After getting out, he transitioned into the legal cannabis market, and even more so, the fight for social equity. Virgil was instrumental in crafting the policy for Measure M, which essentially placed laws that allowed medical marijuana dispensaries to operate legally, as well as helping create the social equity program for the city of Los Angeles.
“Social equity would not exist without Virgil Grant in the city of Los Angeles. I’m the one that brought that conversation, and then the action behind it. I want to be very clear so that when the history books are written, it says what it’s supposed to say.”
Nowadays, Virgil is the owner of California Cannabis, which has three locations in LA, Crenshaw, and on Melrose. Though growing, he still faces many of the funding difficulties that come along with being Black in the cannabis industry.
Locations: San Diego
Mankind is owned and operated by Ebon Johnson, a former car salesman that found himself intrigued by the cannabis industry during the days of semi-legality. Ebon did some research and took a shot at a new business.
Photo: Ebon Johnson operates Mankind dispensary in San Diego, one of the area's busiest and most popular dispensaries.
He started with $15,000 and a lot of ambition, beginning a delivery business in Temecula with a partner. From there he split off and started a delivery business in San Diego, around the same time the government started to crack down on illegal stores operating in California. Ebon says he got lucky. For three years while trying to acquire a legal store, he operated the delivery while his business skyrocketed. After lots of hardships and financial scraping, Ebon was approved to open a legal store, and Mankind came to fruition. While it was a difficult endeavor, Ebon says "if there is no struggle, there is no appreciation from whence you came."
"As a business owner and a black man in this country there have been many obstacles to overcome. It took years of hard work and dedication to see Mankind go from a dream to a thriving local cannabis company in San Diego. I’m proud to have helped build a company that stands for equality and for civil liberties for all people, regardless of color, gender or beliefs."—Ebon Johnson