The public’s perception of cannabis has changed drastically over the years and for Vetra Stephens, one of few Black women in Michigan with recreational marijuana businesses and co-owner of 1st Quality Medz, her new point of view turned out to be life changing.
From the racially repressive policies of the War on Drugs era to the disproportionately incarcerated Black people who are more than three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, Black people have historically had a negative association with marijuana.
“I’m like the average person who saw family members who were good people go to jail for moving product. So in my mind, if it wasn’t legal, then that meant to me that the product must be bad,” said Stephens. “So I had a negative mindset on the cannabis world as a whole until I understood what it was really about.”
Stephens says as she began to learn more about how the plant is grown, she recognized that whether it’s growing a tomato plant or a cannabis plant, the cultivation is no different. It’s the same process of understanding how to cultivate quality products that are healthy for the body.
Her understanding came after she was diagnosed with the life threatening autoimmune disease, Lupus, and her partner battled Stage IV Cancer and they were introduced to Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), a cannabis product that she says opened their eyes.
“Initially I was on a lot of medications that were kind of debilitating. I was in a wheelchair at one point. I had to have stem cell transplant surgery. I had a stroke. It was a situation that I had to do something about,” Stephens told AfroTech. “I could sit there and deteriorate, or I could try to find another way to actually live.”
She tirelessly researched the industry and was surprised at how well she could manage her pain, continue to work, and not be victim to medications she says left her tired and unproductive.
It was right after the loss of Michael Jackson while the country was on edge because of the pressing opioid epidemic that Stephens saw an opportunity to help individuals like her who face chronic pain daily. She was on a mission to change their perception of cannabis and how it offers so many people a second chance to move and function regularly.
In 2018, Michigan voted to legalize the recreational and medical use of cannabis. With a mission to “feel good and pass it on,” Stephens entered the growing billion-dollar industry to find a community to bring her vision and services to. After pushing through red tape in the city of Detroit, Stephens and her business partner went back to the drawing board and mapped out another area to open up in.
They opened 1st Quality Medz in a neighboring city twenty minutes south that was in need of more local business owners.
“We picked River Rouge because the bridge where it was taken out and a lot of mom and pop shops just went under unfortunately, but the public was still there and we wanted to be a part of that,” Stephens told AfroTech. “We found an empty lot and my partner and I pulled up, sat in front of it and I took a napkin out and I drew the buildings as you see it today.”
Today, her napkin sketch has grown into a three building facility, processing center and dispensary where she oversees the quality of product and public education of cannabis from cultivation to oils, flowers, and candy products.
As the first Black dispensary owner in Metro Detroit and one of the first in the state, she was faced with a lot of challenges.
“They were trying to develop something, tiptoeing and tweaking as they went along. And those tweaks were very challenging for us financially as a new business,” said Stephens.
From meetings with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and pivoting as the state created new laws, Stephens was very instrumental to Michigan’s cannabis industry.
AfroTech previously reported that the cannabis industry is projected to hit $57 billion worldwide by 2027, and Stephens has plans to grow with it by releasing an exclusive line of cannabis products called The V Effect.
“I’m changing my gears toward being able to make sure that I can stand behind a product that’s going on the shelves in all of the communities, not just the community that 1st Quality Medz is in. I want it to be able to bring something to the state of Michigan that can be easily reached,” said Stephens. “It is near and dear to my heart to be the first African-American female processing facility in the state of Michigan to break a product line.”