These Four Greenhouses Are Moving the Needle on Social Equity in Cannabis

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Photos courtesy of NUG

Compared to the overall scope of the cannabis industry, there aren’t many opportunities for people from marginalized communities to enter the verdant space. This is due to a variety of factors, such as the high barriers-to-entry, the regulatory hurdles, and an ongoing War on Drugs that still overwhelmingly targets disenfranchised populations. 

Many people are critical of the cannabis industry as a result, especially in California. Regulations require some $250,000-$750,000 to cover start-up costs. Unless you are flushed with cash, having a business in the weed world is unattainable for a majority of people. This week, however, social equity in weed took a major step forward with the opening of four new greenhouses in Oakland, California. 

The new facility, which formed thanks to a symbiotic collaboration between city leaders and licensed cannabis company NUG, will be home to four new cultivation start-ups. These firms are entering the industry with the support of Oakland’s cannabis equity program, which is designed to create opportunities in legal weed for local residents who have been targeted or adversely affected by prohibition and the War on Drugs. Dr. John Oram, the president and CEO of NUG, says that it was important for his company to create a meaningful equity plan so these communities have a place in lucrative adult-use market. 

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“We made sure to not just meet the city standards but to create a unique program to support a strong infrastructure that will yield lasting results,” he wrote in an email to MERRY JANE. “These business owners have a tremendous amount of talent, and with the right resources, are poised for success.”

The four automated greenhouses, totaling 6,000 square feet, feature augmented lighting, motorized curtains, and an irrigation system. They will serve as a rent-free base of business-operations for four new cannabis cultivation brands: Dakota West Coast, Nine Mile Tribe, Medicinal Organic, and OCMG. These companies were developed through NUG’s social equity incubator program, which went live in 2017 in collaboration with members of the Oakland City Council. 

In order to qualify for the city’s cannabis equity program, applicants must be citizens of Oakland earning less than 80 percent of the local average income and live (or lived) in a designated high-crime zone for 10 of the past 20 years. Or, they must have been convicted of a cannabis-related crime in Oakland after November 5, 1996.

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While the greenhouses were under construction, NUG — a vertically-integrated brand with cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and retail operations — employed two of its equity partners, Dakoka West Coast and Nine Mile Tribe, to give the entrepreneurs on-the-job training and experience in the field. NUG also supplied them with cannabis flower to package under their respective labels. These products are now being sold in NUG retail locations in Sacramento and San Leandro. The company’s sales reps are even helping the fledgling companies get into other dispensaries in California. 

Iowa Robinson, an East Oakland native and the owner of equity partner Dakota West Coast, began leading the start-up after her brother and company founder Careem Robinson died last year. With the support of NUG and the city’s cannabis equity program, she hopes to build a better future for her family and her company’s workers.

“Teamwork makes the dream work, and we’ve been very fortunate to have the support of NUG in the process of developing our cultivation business,” Robinson said in a press release. “We’re a family business and our goal is to establish a sustainable company that can be passed on from generation to generation and employ others within our Oakland community.”

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Oram agrees, adding that new companies like Robinson’s are needed to help expand California’s legal cannabis business infrastructure. Because, ultimately, if more equity brands form throughout the industry, people from marginalized communities or victims of the War on Drugs will have an improved chance at making a living in a legitimate industry in which many privileged people are experiencing success.

“Establishing sustainable companies is not only essential to building a strong Oakland business community, but [it’s] also essential to moving the adult-use cannabis industry forward,” he said. “We’re thrilled to see these groups grow, learn, and become profitable.”

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