Cannabis, with its psychoactive features and myriad of purported health benefits, has emerged as a multi-billion dollar industry over the past several years. Once made popular by black jazz artists in the 1920s and ‘30s, cannabis is now a field dominated by white men.
As a young black inspiring entrepreneur and a cannabis enthusiast, I am thrilled when I read about fellow black people breaking into the industry and fighting for the equality of minority-owned businesses. None are more impressive than Maryland native Hope Wiseman. She defines the term “black excellence,” from attending Spelman University, a premier historically black college, becoming an investment banker, dancing with the Atlanta Falcons, to even appearing on E!’s series Wives and Girlfriends of Sports Stars.
In 2017, Hope decided to embark on a new journey in the cannabis industry. At the age of 25 with the support of her mother by her side, Dr. Octavia Wiseman, Hope opened Mary and Main a year later in her home state, which made her the youngest black woman in the country to own a cannabis dispensary.
It’s been over a year since Wiseman opened her dispensary and DOPE had the opportunity to pick the mind of one young black cannabis pioneer about her experience being in the cannabis industry.
DOPE Magazine: What drove you to enter the cannabis space? Was there a certain “aha” moment that made you realize you were destined to be a part of this industry?
Hope Wiseman: Initially, the economic opportunity of the space was the most enticing. When I first started looking into this industry, I had just graduated with my degree in Economics. I remember watching CNBC and they were talking about how quickly the cannabis industry was growing. I had never seen an industry grow at double-digit rates consistently and the projections continue for years to come. This immediately caught my eye as I realized that this would be one of the few times in my life that I would get the chance to be a part of a multi-billion dollar industry and get in on the ground floor level.
You have a background in investment banking which you received while working at Sun Trust Robinson Humphrey. How did that experience aid you in starting your cannabis dispensary, Mary and Main?
Having experience in investment banking gives you hard and soft skills to be able to succeed in ANY industry however it especially prepares you for entrepreneurial pursuits. Through my banking experience, I was able to get used to figuring out complicated scenarios on my own and creating solutions backed by research to solve them. I also learned very tangible skills like financial modeling and forecasts that have been instrumental in me being successful in my current career.
You are in a field dominated by white males. There are fewer and fewer females in C-Suite positions now than there were just a few years ago. What were some of the roadblocks and hardships of becoming/being a black female dispensary owner in the cannabis industry? Any similarities to investment banking?
As an African American woman in the cannabis industry, you face many issues while dealing with the intersectionality of your identity. This is similar across most sophisticated and prestigious industries and cannabis is no exception. The main roadblock is the lack of access to capital. The fewer amount of females in C-suite positions has a lot to do with the fact that venture capitalists and other more sophisticated institutional investors are finally getting comfortable with the industry as a whole. As more VC dollars flow into the space, fewer and fewer women and minority-owned businesses will get funded and subsequently will have difficulty competing in the space. Changing the bias that has surrounded the VC industry since its inception (across all industries including investment banking) is the key to reversing the issue that the cannabis industry is facing with its lack of diversity in ownership and c-suite level leadership.
Back in college I crafted and sold edibles. My college was next to an army base and my clientele consisted of former military personnel. I quickly realized they didn’t just want to get high – they needed cannabis as medicine. When they told me their stories I realized I was helping them and it was, and remains, one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life. Do you have one story, in particular, that stands out that has given you satisfaction and a sense of self-worth in the cannabis space?
I have a patient, a former Vietnam vet, that has extreme PTSD as well as nerve damage and severe joint pain. He was one of our first customers at Mary and Main. Each and every time he comes into the shop, he greets me and my staff with a huge warm smile despite the fact that he uses a cane to support himself while walking. He even had a time that he fell coming into the dispensary because he said the pain was so severe, that when he stood on his legs, they gave out. After about three months of consistent cannabis use, he was able to walk into our store with his head high without his cane. The smile on his face was even bigger and brighter than the first day I met him, and that was the first time that I really understood the level of impact I could make on someone’s life through Mary and Main.
After witnessing first-hand the benefits of medical cannabis, what’s your point of view when it comes to medical cannabis being used in professional sports? Did your time spent filming WAGS or your work as a dancer for the Atlanta Falcons play a role in how you feel about this topic?
During my time around professional athletes as a cheerleader and on reality TV, I watched athletes having to use cannabis in secret because they were attempting to treat themselves from the pain they experience while playing the game. Many felt that the shots and other medicines that were given by their team doctors were doing more harm than good long term to their bodies. I believe cannabis can be a great alternative to the pain medications that are currently being used today to treat conditions caused by playing the game. Also, research is beginning to show how CBD especially can be a great preventative measure for concussions, which we know many NFL players experience even from a young age.
You are the youngest black woman to own a cannabis dispensary. What advice would you pass onto the young black entrepreneurs looking to get into the cannabis industry or immerse themselves in business at large?
My first piece of advice to any young person looking to get into the cannabis industry is to have a clear vision of how you want to be involved in the industry and relentlessly pursue that specific niche. Do not try to be everything to everyone in this industry. Because it is still in its early stages and extremely regulated, you have the unique opportunity to establish your brand and gain as much market share as possible before the industry is oversaturated. Also, there are many other ways to become a part of this industry besides owning a dispensary or cultivation facility. Ancillary companies are awesome ways to get established in the industry.
You are the co-founder of Compassionate Herbal Alternatives (CHA). Part of the mission statement reads, “We strive to be active agents within our community through social action, cannabis education, and philanthropy to further educate others on the benefits of this alternative medicinal approach to health.” How does CHA give back to those who have been incarcerated because of cannabis in the Maryland area?
CHA was our original name when we applied in Maryland back in 2015. Since then, CHA has become our holding company and Mary and Main is our retail brand. CHA and its subsidiaries are working on a bill with Maryland legislators that will mandate a training program for Maryland residents. This program will target those who have been incarcerated because of the war on drugs, their family members, and members of the communities they are from and give them all of the tools and resources needed to land an entry-level position at a licensed MD cannabis facility. The program also aims to monitor their progress in the company and help to ensure upward mobility in the space. This is our main initiative going into 2020.
Cannabis has always been a massive component of the pop culture fabric. Do you have a favorite song that points to cannabis? Or a certain genre/artist/song you enjoy listening to while medicated?
So many songs in today’s music mention cannabis. It speaks to the fact that so many people no matter where they are from or what they do, consume cannabis! I think it relates to us as humans. I love to listen to contemporary Neo-soul like Jhene Aiko when I am medicated (psychoactively that is).