DENVER (CBS4)– Sarah Woodson got involved in the cannabis industry as the owner of a hospitality business called Kush and Canvases. She quickly realized she came from a much different background than many of her peers. It was something she knew she had to change.
“I didn’t want to be the only Black woman with a hospitality business,” said Woodson.
She quickly realized there are many barriers preventing Black and brown people from cashing in on legal marijuana. For one, economic disparity means entrepreneurs of color can’t afford the licensing and certification required to open a marijuana business.
Woodson also says the laws that were created to regulate marijuana in Colorado were written to purposefully exclude some people, like those who have prior non-violent marijuana convictions on their records.
She explains, “If you’re creating a whole industry and you are going to regulate it, and there’s already been an industry that is not regulated, well, what are you going to do in order to succeed in that industry? You’re going to create laws that work for you.”
She thinks that isn’t fair to communities of color because often they were the targets of aggressive marijuana laws in the ’90s that stemmed from the war on drugs.
“Anheuser-Busch participated in prohibition, but no one created a law to write them out,” said Woodson.
That’s why she created The Color of Cannabis. The mission is to provide a pathway for persons of color to join the ever-growing cannabis industry. One way Woodson does that is by hosting a business course. Students learn about starting a business and she guides them through the paperwork process to get certified by the state. She also helps those that are eligible take advantage of reduced fees through the State’s social equity program. In addition, she uses her connections to connect her students with industry leaders.
Yadira Silva has her own cannabis delivery service, Landis Deliveries. She says making those connections is crucial.
“I know how difficult it is to meet them, how to see them and how to know what they are doing,” said Silva.
Michael Diaz-Rivera took Woodson’s class. He has since started his own marijuana delivery service named ABC Delivery. He says he would like to see the marijuana industry become more diverse and The Color of Cannabis is providing opportunities for people who didn’t have them before.
“So many people have been left out (so we’re) figuring out how we can get more space for people like me,” said Diaz-Rivera.
On top of teaching others, Woodson lobbies for legislation that will break down those barriers Black and brown entrepreneurs face.
Jeremy McAdory, a Black entrepreneur who owns a cannabis hospitality company of his own called Dreaming Illusions, says the lobbying Woodson and The Color of Cannabis is doing is important. Marijuana is still a controlled substance federally, so he believes government support will truly allow people who want to start businesses like his to thrive.
“If the government shows that they are more willing to adapt to the marijuana industry, that will help more people of color to get into it,” said McAdory.