[Race / Related is available as a newsletter. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox.]
Fifteen states, as well as Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana use, with New York being one of the most recent states to adopt such a measure. That bill, signed last month by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, included important provisions to address issues of racial equality, such as clearing criminal records of previous marijuana-related offenses convictions and reserving 40 cents of every dollar of tax revenue from cannabis sales for the communities hardest hit by the effects of drug enforcement.
A talk about equality is owning dispensaries and who can benefit from the slate of new laws. According to MJBizDailyAbout 81 percent of cannabis business owners are white, while only 4 percent are black and 6 percent are Latino – two groups historically criminalized for the use and sale of marijuana.
Jaleel White, best known for playing the popular character Steve Urkel on the sitcom & # 39; Family Matters & # 39; from the 1990s, is one of the leaders. He recently developed and started a cannabis line called ItsPurpl, a collaboration with 710 Labs, creating variants of a strain called Purple Urkle.
"We were never a brand pursuing celebrity deals, in fact we turned down a few," said Brad Melshenker, founder of 710 Labs, of his decision to partner with Mr. White, who is black. "But after we met Jaleel by chance on a plane and became friends, the idea grew organically and we knew we had the right partner."
Mr White, for his part, said he hoped more black and Latino people would lead the cannabis brands. "I would like to see a truly multicultural spectrum represented, from ownership to employment."
I recently spoke to Mr. White about his new cannabis line, how he got into the cannabis business, the difficulties he faced and what the cannabis industry is like now compared to just a few years ago. Our conversation has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
When did you become interested in entering the cannabis market?
About seven years ago. Friends and family always thought it was funny to send me smuggled photos of myself on products in dispensaries across the country. I smoke, so I decided to take a positive approach. A childhood friend from the second grade, Sean, is the person I believe made sure I did things the right way. Businessmen came along with ideas that felt very much like exploiting Urkel's legacy, and he dismissed them as a protective big brother. What always struck me was that there was no clear brand leader for purple weed. I didn't think it made sense that no company had claimed this job. So why not me? I just needed a chance to market some really remarkable products that represented me and my quality standards, and now we're here.
Were there any difficulties or obstacles you faced?
Only one other thing has taught me more patience, and that is parenting my daughter Samaya. The biggest obstacle has been meeting people who over promise and fail to deliver. When I can see a vision so clearly in my mind, it is frustrating to share it with people who are just telling you what you want to hear, knowing they won't be able to realize it. I'd get a gut feeling if a potential partner got it wrong, and it was disappointing at times, but that eventually led me to 710 Labs. I had the same instinct to guide me when the situation felt right.
Tell me about being and becoming a brand leader for purple fireweed.
I like fine tequilas. But I also love an incredible mezcal and that unmistakable smoky flavor. I look at purple weed the same way I look at great mezcals. There are so many varieties and flavors. Consumers and fans of purple simply feel woefully disadvantaged in the market.
The recreation market is really still in its infancy, so we're really in a space where only a few brands have emerged and established themselves as leaders. We found a unique opportunity in 710 Labs. They are a & # 39; quality first & # 39; brand also known within the cannabis community for their commitment to culture. By combining the biological relationship I have with purple cannabis in combination with a very skilled breeding team, we are able to put some of the best purple cannabis on the shelves anywhere. I humble this claim, but I also know what our breeding crew can do.
What has it felt like to see Purple Urkle strains flowing into cannabis markets across the country over the years?
It's tripping to see how organic purple cannabis has made a comeback to the market. But it also made me want to do better than anyone else.
Cannabis has been widely criminalized for years, mainly for Black and Latino people. What's your take on the shift as it gets legalized nationwide? Are there any changes you hope to see within the cannabis industry?
There must be federal legalization and an end to these archaic laws that most affect people of color. Once that happens, we can start researching and have access to real scientific studies from verified medical researchers showing us exactly how cannabis can help people suffering from a range of health conditions. Think of all the people who could benefit from good access to the plant.
We would like to see the true pioneers of this industry – the people who were in it when it was not so popular – have access to compete within the space they helped create, as well as some of our brethren who are locked up to participate to what has now become legal behavior. We need them for free and to be able to participate in the market.
What is your ultimate goal? Do you want to add more variants and eventually sell them outside of California?
Our end goal is to build a brand that survives market shifts, remains relevant, and consistently delivers the highest quality product. We plan to stay in this game for the long haul, so our end goal is infinity, not a true ending. We are definitely a company that remains committed to collecting and working on our menu of genetics.
And we absolutely want to expand all of our products from streetwear merchandise to cannabis outside of California. We want to be the first cannabis to be smoked in space.
What is the next step for you as a brand leader? And what's next for the cannabis line?
We just stay on our path. We will continue to give that fire purple to anyone looking for a truly unique cannabis experience. Over the next year and beyond, keep introducing new genetics, God willing. We definitely want to play with some food and drink, topicals, you name it. We are very excited to serve this growing community.