Q&A Session with the National Hispanic Cannabis Council
Question 1: Can you walk me a bit through Heavenly Herbs?
Heavenly Herbs is a holistic cultivation company focused on home cultivation. Right now, the business aspect of it is education – teaching people about the plant: how to grow it – but also the resourcefulness of it. If people are going to come to me to learn how to grow, I want them to learn the different ways they can use their growth, not just the one way that they know. I want to be able to educate people on the plant outside of general knowledge. And then after the education I want to go into ‘this is how you grow the plant’ and ‘this is how you care for them’. I offer classes and I also do one-on-one consultations.
Question 2: When did you start Heavenly Herbs?
I’m originally from Florida. South Florida – I grew up mostly around the West Palm Beach area. My dad is Mexican and my mom is Puerto Rican. One of the major reasons I moved to Washington D.C. was because they had legalized home cultivation at the time. I moved there back in 2016-2017. So that’s when I started tapping into the cannabis industry – networking events and things like that. But I didn’t actually start the official Heavenly Herbs title until this year, when I decided I wanted to start sharing the past four years of information that I have collected on my own. I had to do a lot of networking, researching, reading, and I feel like if I can help people skip all the time that I spent it will be helpful.
Question 3: How did you start your journey (with cannabis)?
I got involved with cannabis when I was about 20. Obviously as a teenager and as a kid growing up, the stigma with cannabis is ‘stay away, it’s a drug’ and ‘you don’t want anything to do with that’. As a kid, I did what I was told and stayed away from it. As I started getting older and maturing, I started realizing what cannabis was. It wasn’t something that was made in a lab or anything like that. I decided I wanted to try it and I wanted to learn about it. So at 20 years old, that’s the first time I ever tried marijuana – and I loved it – I really loved it. I would smoke socially mostly on occasions and I guess the interest just kept building on top of that throughout the years. I was already involved in cannabis but nothing like growing, or in the industry itself. That didn’t come along until my mid or late twenties when I started thinking about growing it and starting to have my own products.
Question 4: How do you feel about the Florida market and what is your perception of the program? How inclusive was it?
So right now, I feel like it’s definitely at a point in time where it’s starting to evolve, because of the fact that it has been legalized medically, people want to know ‘what is this hemp?’. Or ‘What is this CBD that they are legalizing?’. People just don’t like change, it is like they hold on to the things they were taught and it is hard to accept the fact that it is legal because it was never harmful in the first place.
So, the market over there is going to be really hard because it is very conservative for most of Florida. Now going into South Florida, that’s a little bit different – Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, once you hit West Palm Beach it starts to change. In South Florida it is more liberal, and people are more comfortable with the conversation of cannabis. But the majority of Florida I would say is not comfortable with the cannabis topic.
Question 5: Do you feel like there is any specific perception of cannabis in the Hispanic community?
In my opinion the whole Hispanic culture and cannabis is ironic. This is because of the fact that my great grandmothers were growing this plant in their garden. My dad remembers my grandma having a cannabis plant, plucking her leaves, making her tea. And it was normal – no big deal. And now we are at a day and age where Hispanics have demonized it just like everyone else has. And it’s like but wait, hold on – let’s think about this. This is a plant that our ancestors were using for so many resources outside of medicine. You can make clothes out of this, you can build homes out of this, you can create energy out of this. There are so many things that this was being used for – and your own family was using it.
At the same time, the Hispanic community has been impacted in a negative way when it comes to cannabis. Of course, it was a lot of the American propaganda that had to do with that altered perspective at the time when a lot more Mexicans were coming over here at the beginning of it all. Because their experience is so negative, they push that on the plant. That negativity doesn’t come from the plant. It comes from the people who are putting false information into people’s heads. So that’s where I say the irony comes in. Where our family used to grow this plant, but now we have this mentality that it’s a demonic drug and it is ruining people’s lives.
Question 6: Right now, you would classify your business as consulting or coaching. Do you have any ambition to go bigger towards licensing?
I really do. What I would love to do is get to a point where I educate people and then also help get their licenses if that’s what they decide they want to do. We are going to need people producing, and I know they have all these major farms and there will be big corporations funding big farms. But that’s why this is important, because now we are at a turning point where we are in control. Are we going to allow big corporations – major corporations – to take over this industry? Or are we going to unite as a people, hold our power, maintain our businesses, grow our businesses. Not just sell it to someone who has more money to make it bigger. We need to hold onto our businesses and cultivate them ourselves. Otherwise, the big corporations are going to run us out just like they have in almost every industry.
Question 7: What do you think about the recent developments in New York – the new program, the new regulations?
I noticed they are dragging out the regulations because they have a whole bunch of things they want to legalize in this act. They are signing things off a little bit at a time. A lot of people thought growing cannabis in New York is legal this year because they signed the legislation, but people don’t realize it has been signed but it won’t take effect until a certain date. I feel as though the decision to wait and pass every individual law does benefit someone’s pockets, so that bothers me a little bit. But we just have to wait for it.
Question 8: Do you see a Hispanic dimension in your business? Or is it not really focused on any ethnicity?
No, I do want my focus to be people of color, especially because I feel like people put a lot of emphasis on Latinos, but they don’t realize there are Afro-Latinos. And they get excluded a lot of the time. So there are many opportunities to be able to include more than what we are used to seeing. When I get to a point where I need help – I need employees to help me with my cultivation or wherever we are at that point in time – I do want my focus to be giving work to people of color who are interested in working in this industry. So that is definitely a focus of mine.
Question 9: What is your perspective on social equity programs?
I put hope in it, but I see and I also hear that they are not working the way people imagined they would work. Where there is a will, there is a way. And I think that these social equity programs can be useful if they are done the right way. I think it’s just a matter of ‘are the right people in the room when these equity programs are put in place?’.
Question 10: It seems like there have been improvements over time to social equity programs since they were first introduced. Have you seen this in your own experience, in New York for example?
In our area the social equity programs for cannabis are pretty new. I really don’t know if it’s going to be as effective as they are saying it will be. It is hard to say right now. I feel like on the West coast, they have been in this for a little bit longer, so they have a little more experience in what is working and what is not. So, I would say personally on my end, its not clear right now. I can imagine it will at least help a small portion of people. I cannot see them putting this into place and it is not helping a single person.
Question 11: What kind of help or assistance would you like to see the NHCC provide to individuals?
I am expecting networking, coaching in some form, and financial support as well, because people in the communities who are going to be needing this don’t have thousands of dollars to compete with other businesses off the bat. You have to start somewhere, but when you have capital to help you accelerate, at the end of the day that is what a lot of businesses are needing.
Question 12: Would financial education be something you would like to see as well?
You can’t have finances without financial education. You can give someone a million dollars – if they don’t have financial education, that million dollars is going to disappear. So, any time someone receives some sort of financial help, I think they need to have financial education along with that. And I think that’s a major problem in a lot of programs.
Question 13: What kind of advice would you give to people looking to get into the industry?
The very first thing I would tell somebody is to get familiar with your local laws. It is important to have a connection with a lawyer or somebody who is familiar in the field. Another piece of advice would be don’t let the bad stigma break you. People are going to try to tear you down and make you feel bad about what you are doing. Have faith, and believe in what you are doing, because that is the only way you will succeed. And connect with as many people as you can. Networking is a powerful tool that people don’t take advantage of the way they should.
Question 14: How do you feel about the application fees for licensing?
They are up there. It is very expensive to get the licenses so I think that is going to be a major problem. I think that is probably what a lot of people of color are facing – is how high the cost to actually get licensed is. It’s like ‘we want to be legal but can we afford to be legal?’.
Question 15: Where do you see yourself a year from now?
In a year from now I am hoping to have more than two workshops a month. I am hoping by then to have everything up and running in New York in terms of licensing as well. I want to be able to have my license to sell products because I plan on making RSO oils and different types of ointments. Right now, we are going to be meeting with a grant writer who was referred to us because we do need funding. We are currently working on getting some grants to help pay for our licensing and startup costs.
Question 16: Grants seem to be a new source of capital in the industry. Can you explain a little bit about the process with the grant writer?
It is probably dependent on the person offering the service. In this situation, she is not asking for anything up front. She is offering to go through the process to help us with the grant writing and if we get approved, she gets a percentage of that. But I am sure there are other people who will ask for something up front.