CEO – Standard Wellness
Q&A Session with the National Hispanic Cannabis Council
Question 1: When did you first start in the Legal Cannabis Industry and why?
My engagement started back in 2017, and it was a decision that was driven by a clear line of sight into our burgeoning sector and an incredible opportunity to both build wealth and wellness in our community.
From licensing to procurement, to ancillary businesses and advocacy, it was clear that ethnic minorities (such as African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans in particular) had a historical turnaround story and experience through legalization that could be realized and even monetized.
Question 2: What kind of advice would you give to people looking to get into the industry?
I’d start with level-setting. This is an extraordinarily difficult time to start a new business in the cannabis industry. There are clearer paths on the nonprofit side of our sector but on the for-profit side, it’s a bit murkier.
If you’d like to work in the sector, I think it’s important to build your cannabis IQ and ensure that your familiarity with the trends in our sector are common knowledge for you. You can do this by subscribing to trade publications and newsletters, and you can also take online and easily accessible courses. Many local cannabis operators and ancillary businesses in the sector (accounting firms, legal firms, etc.) have sessions that are free to attend. Go there to learn and to build relationships. Relationships drive this industry and the best place to start is there.
I would say that also applies to people wanting to build businesses. Start with relationships and leaning on capable professionals who have already demonstrated success in the type of business that you’re interested in starting. Ask them questions and, again, learn, learn, learn.
Additionally, funding for this sector is at an all-time low. It’s down by roughly 70% in the last two years so as a startup business, I think it is incredibly important to have a good degree of tenacity and resilience. You’ll need to be able to get ten, thirty, fifty “no’s” and keep ticking.
Lastly, if you’re interested in licensing, I would encourage new business owners in the sector to partner with either existing operators or grounded and experienced mentors in the space who can at least help guide them into the sector in a very smart and strategic way.
Question 3: How do you feel about the current application fees for licensing?
I feel that application fees for licensing have quite frankly improved. I think that 5-7 years ago, when some of our larger states were just starting to roll out programs, they were far more expensive. As states have embraced equity programming and the ability to make this sector accessible – at least on the plant-touching side – to a very diverse group of interested parties and business leaders, we find licensing fees decreasing.
Question 4: How do you think cannabis has been received by the Hispanic community?
I think this is an interesting question because Hispanics across the Unites States have a long and deep history with the plan, so it’s not something that I’d characterize us as “receiving.”
Unfortunately, in America, Hispanics have been linked to cannabis in a negative way and in a way that was marked by racial inequity and unjust targeting (think over-policing and negative stereotyping). The reality is that we, as Hispanics, have had a healthy relationship with the cannabis plant that spans centuries. It was always one of the world’s most widely cultivated plants in many of our South American and Central American countries, and cannabis has been embraced for medicinal, healing, recreational, and spiritual purposes since the beginning of our time on this planet.
Question 5: How would you say discrimination manifests itself in the industry?
Rather than talking about discrimination, I would rather focus on the inequities because as a conscious capitalist, that’s where I see the greatest opportunity for improvement.
Funding for small and mid-sized startup businesses is one example where inequities are glaringly obvious. Pound for pound, ethnic minorities have a more difficult time raising operational capital than their non-ethnic peers.
Another clear example of inequity is in the treatment/handling of ethnic minorities by our criminal justice system. African Americans and Hispanics are exponentially more likely to be arrested for cannabis offences than their white American peers. We’re more likely to have longer sentences and we’re less likely to have opportunities for restoration and engagement in the sector once those sentences are served. I think the reality is that these inequities drive the narrative about discrimination, and they need to swiftly and systemically be addressed. If not, the distance between those able to take advantage in the upside of this industry and those who cannot will continue to grow.
That said, our sector “gets it.” I know there is a far distance to travel in order to feel like we’ve “got it right,” but we’re doing a much better job of being conscious and inclusive as we build this industry out.
At the industry association level (NCIA, NCBIA, Hispanic Cannabis Council, and even the US Cannabis Council) we are working aggressively to diversify the sector. We all are committed to having and empowering the best and brightest around the table in our industry as owners of businesses, not only on the plant touching side but also in the ancillary businesses. I think that legislators are also focused on equity in the sector.
Overall, our industry represents one of the most intentional and mindful high-growth sectors in America when it comes to diversity and equity, and it’s nice and necessary to actually recognize that.
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are native to many of us in the space, but equally important is that even if not native, our sector is committed to building creating a space where it is foundational to this industry.
Question 6: What is some advice you would give to young Hispanic entrepreneurs?
I am not sure that my advice would differ from my response in question 2. If you are looking to get into this sector, you must have very good footing with some mentors and existing operators. It is very important to meet up with like-minded or similarly situated individuals as well because the truth of the matter is they will understand your plight and be able to give you advice as you navigate this nascent sector and as you start your new business.
The second thing is that you must be extraordinarily resilient and committed to success, no matter what obstacles lie before you. And this is even more important as a Hispanic entrepreneur. You will face more challenges and you’ll do that as one of only a few in the space, so being laser-focused and willing to stay in the fight is critical to success.
I try to walk with confidence, humility, and with a teachable spirit. So I’d reiterate that you must do the hard work to learn about this sector, the market, and your business so that when you come into whatever space you are coming into, you are coming in strong and hard so that you can’t be denied access easily, if at all.
Question 7: What is your vision of what this industry could potentially become?
We have an incredible sector here. As we continue to roll out state to state, cannabis is quickly being recognized as a commodity.
We are looking at a $20B sector now that will grow exponentially in the next five to ten years. That said, because it is a nascent industry, I think we have a unique opportunity to build this out in a way where all of the stakeholders will be considered, respected, and that will benefit from this sector.