For many Black-owned and family-owned businesses, their missions are often rooted in stories of community, unity and perseverance through life’s obstacles.
In the case of Flight — the newest and only state licensed cannabis dispensary in San Francisco’s Park Merced — cousins Eric Grayson, Keena Middleton, and Charles Toney II all teamed up to launch a business that could set an example for their community and honor their family all at once.
“It means a lot because we’re from here, but it means a lot more because it took so much effort to even get to this point,” Middleton tells AfroTech. “[Flight] is not your regular business by any means, you can open up a million [other] things before you open up one of these [dispensaries]. It has a lot to do with being Black as well, but to be able to do it with family members means the world.”
The dispensary’s name itself is a tribute to Grayson’s mother, Clara Grayson, who passed away from cancer after the family pooled money together to fly her to Europe. Her passing coupled with Toney II’s mother’s recent passing, as well as personal health and wellness issues, inspired the three co-founders to help others realize the healing and relief powers of cannabis.
With backgrounds in cannabis, both the medical business and cultivation, all three men meeting the SF Social Equity Program’s criteria — which aims to create equal opportunity and secure ownership in the multi-billion dollar cannabis industry — partnered with Los Angeles-based cannabis holding company the Shryne Group to start their business.
Launching this one-of-a-kind business was no easy feat for the family, especially when opportunities for current and aspiring Black cannabis owners are slim in the industry.
According to Middleton, the process of launching the dispensary took understanding the industry’s language, which could be perceived as a gatekeeping tactic to limit opportunities for those who have been historically shut out of the space.
“While I was going through this process I felt like I had to learn a second language to know not just how to talk to people, but talk to them in a way that [they understood] because that’s the only way they would hear us,” he shares. “It wasn’t that we were communicating wrong, it’s just that they didn’t want to listen unless you were speaking the way they wanted you to speak. Not knowing that and trying to get into the [cannabis] business would make you want to walk straight out the door because you think you’re doing everything wrong, but you’re in fact doing everything right.”
Despite the many funds and initiatives rolling out to support Black and people of color in the cannabis space, the co-founders claim that they have yet to see the effects of this new shift in their local neighborhood.
“We haven’t seen [any changes] yet. We don’t even know another person going through what we have [going on] who’s Black and has their own [business] so it’s still kind of new for that,” Grayson shares. “Especially here in San Francisco where it’s almost impossible to get real estate. We know a lot of applicants but actually [witnessing] people who have gone through the process is still yet to be seen.”
Grayson, who’s been cultivating in the cannabis space for nearly 22 years, did what a lot of aspiring Black entrepreneurs have to do in order to get their foot in the door in the industry — he did his research on how he could turn his interest into a lucrative business and it paid off.
“A lot of people turned me down on teaching me how to [get involved] so I read up on it myself and then I just fell in love with being able to give life to something and watch it become this product that people love,” he says.
Being the only Black and family-owned cannabis dispensary — on top of being the only state licensed store in Park Merced — the three co-founders hope that their brand will act as a catalyst for change in the cannabis space not just for Black communities, but also health and wellness.
“The direction we’re going in with our company is more [towards] health and wellness and we’re going to be incorporating nutritional factors that have the same compound benefits as certain fruits and vegetables,” Toney II tell us. “A lot of times in the Black community we don’t have the proper resources and sometimes [people] may end up in prison or in the hospital on a gang of medications that they don’t need. So we want to teach people that there’s other ways around those things that can give them the right help.”
“It’s been a long road for us but the main message we want to get out coming from the community we come from as minorities is that when given the opportunity you can achieve your goals,” Middleton concludes.
Flight as a cannabis dispensary aims to prove to its community that the store represents both another way to make a living and a pathway to achieving a healthy lifestyle.
Flight is currently open now and is located at 61 Cambon Drive, San Francisco, CA.
For more information about Flight, visit its website.