If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. That was the case for these Black women, who teamed up with friends to launch a cannabis company.
Chicago Reader reports Grow Greater Englewood Executive Director Anton Seals Jr. was joined by Harvard Law School grad and entrepreneur J.T. Stinnette, the group’s wellness officer Jamaal Kendrick, restaurant owner Chris “Dough” Fryison, and additional silent partners to launch Organic Urban Revitalization Solutions (OURS) in 2019.
Their collective aim is to introduce a “culture-driven urban brand” in Illinois, with the overarching goal of enhancing Black and brown communities by setting a higher standard for equity within the cannabis sector, their company website mentions.
View this post on Instagram
“We were aligning to answer what social equity needed, but also choosing to form partnerships with the best people,” Tanya Ward, OUR marketing lead said, per Chicago Reader. “We looked at this as an opportunity to create generational wealth, because for people with our skin growing up in this country, that’s not guaranteed.”
She continued, “My family was decimated by the drugs that were brought into our community and the subsequent war on drugs. It was an effort to do for ourselves, but also to honor the people that came before us. In the case of J.T.’s family, they were pioneers in the medical cannabis space.”
OURS applied for several cannabis business licenses that included dispensary, infuser, craft grower, and transporter. The company swiftly took action to join the industry following the passing of HB 1438 – The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act by the state’s General Assembly, which states “adults over 21 will be able to legally purchase cannabis for recreational use from licensed dispensaries across the state,” according to a public document. The law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and was signed by Governor J. B. Pritzker on June 25, 2019.
While the green light to sell cannabis products had gone into effect, OUR’s dedicated the first two years since the laws passing to focus on community outreach and helping other entrepreneurs enter the industry with the assistance of the Chicago Urban League.
“Before we got set to selling products, we had to think about, ‘OK, what about the people that are incarcerated still? How can we open up opportunities for people to work in the industry, but not necessarily have to touch the plant,’” Ward mentioned to Chicago Reader. “Working in equity and justice turned out to be a great branding thing for us — we became a trusted source. We put in the sweat equity doing the right things.”
She added, “We looked at this as an opportunity to create generational wealth, because for people with our skin growing up in this country, that’s not guaranteed.”
Eventually, OURS was ready to position itself to launch a product to market, and the group was looking to purchase a space to support its operations. However, it became increasingly difficult to seek investors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the outlet. OURS was also working with a landlord, but negotiations did not ultimately succeed for a brick-and-mortar.
“Before investors invest in you, they want to see what you can do, they want to see a proof of return on their investment,” Ward explained, according to Chicago Reader. “We hadn’t done anything in terms of retail or creating an amazing product. We had to get to market with something that was wonderful and accessible and delicious and worked in all the ways that we said it would.”
They were able to achieve this through the launch of Community brand chocolate bars made with lion’s mane mushroom, vanilla, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabinoids cannabinol (CBN) and cannabigerol (CBG), according to Chicago Reader. The product was made in partnership with Nature’s Grace and Wellness.
View this post on Instagram
A portion of profits are directed to Black, brown, local, and rural farmers in the state.
Additionally, the bars are available in over 90 dispensaries across the state.
“There’s a lot of work to do to get dispensaries interested, keep our name on the buyers’ minds, and make sure that we engage the budtenders,” Ward expressed to the Chicago Reader.