At the beginning of September, public comment closed on a Senate proposal to decriminalize cannabis nationwide. Meanwhile, support for full legalization has only continued to grow.
We detailed in a previous report a pending proposal from U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), which would remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, empower states to implement their own cannabis laws, and ensure Americans cannot be arrested or barred from public housing or financial aid for using cannabis where it’s legal.
In an interview with The Black Wall St. Times, the owner of Portland’s first and largest Black-owned cannabis company opened up about being criminalized for cannabis use in his youth and how legalization would open the door to a new generation of Black entrepreneurs.
Black cannabis CEO once labeled a “habitual marijuana offender”
Art Boyd is CEO and owner of Phresh Cannabis. He broke barriers in 2015 when he successfully applied for a marijuana business license in Oregon’s then-brand new industry.
With one of the largest grow facilities in Portland, and the first retail cannabis dispensary in nearby Forest Grove, Boyd said his parents saved him from going down the wrong path.
“I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. In an urban neighborhood. Us as young black men were profiled as drug dealers,” Boyd told The Black Wall Street Times via zoom at the end of August.
War on drugs personal for many Black, brown people, poor people
He said he and his friends would be pulled over, harassed and thrown on the ground for being caught with small amounts of cannabis.
“It would cause a vicious cycle of lawyers, courts and probation. And if you weren’t disciplined enough on probation to do what they asked you to do you would go back to jail. And again, for what—half a gram of marijuana?” Boyd said.
The U.S. Senate proposal, The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would address the War on Drugs by eliminating the possibility of arrest and allow for people arrested for simple possession benefits geared toward helping them succeed as cannabis business owners.
Unlike some of his peers, Boyd had supportive parents growing up with slightly more wealth than others in his neighborhood. They helped him start a path of entrepreneurship by giving him a fixer house to resell. By 2004, and with no college degree, Boyd had already amassed 12 properties of his own.
Cannabis user became successful entrepreneur
The early success led him to investing in other businesses, such as those in the cannabis industry.
Before opening Phresh Cannabis in Oregon, Boyd ventured out to Denver to learn the ins and outs of the business working in security.
“I went around three times a week to collect cash and pay invoices and payroll,” Boyd said. He was also on the board and joined weekly operations meetings.
“For 3 years I just kinda soaked in all the information, took what I learned there and moved out to Oregon.”
By 2021, Phresh Cannabis has gone on to win many awards for their pristine product and service.
“What sets us apart is our flower,” Boyd said, calling his grow operation the Rolls-Royce of grow facilities.
“A lot of guys just throw a lot of plants in a room, grow it and harvest it. They don’t really show care for it. Everything we do is hands-on. We have a great crew all the way from the growers to the trimmers.”
Federal decriminalization and legalization supported by many
When asked whether he supports federal decriminalization and legalization, Boyd said “of course, yes.” He said allowing federally insured banks to work with cannabis companies would be a game-changer that helps minority entrepreneurs with less access to funding.
“I was labeled a habitual drug offender for less than a gram of marijuana,” Boyd said, saying he supports the expungement of all cannabis possession offenses.
“I would like the banking bill to pass to allow federally insured banks to open for marijuana so guys like ourselves can go into a bank with a business proposal and sell it to them to maybe get a loan,” Boyd said.
Notably, the Brookings Institution also supports the Senate proposal and thinks it doesn’t go far enough.
“The financial loss to a drug war-targeted family demands additional attention, especially in areas like childcare, housing assistance, and education,” The Institution wrote in a blog submitted to the Senate Finance Committee.
Moreover, The United States Conference of Mayors has endorsed legalization as well, urging President Biden and Congress to pass full legalization for adults age 21 and over.
Advice for young, Black entrepreneurs
When asked what advice he would give to young Black entrepreneurs aspiring to become cannabis business owners, Boyd said the industry is evolving and that folks should research new emerging markets in states that have yet to fully introduce the industry.
“It’s easier to get into the industry as early as you can. Once the industry gets going in the state and it flourishes it gets really expensive.”
For those lacking immediate capital to get started, Boyd highlighted the importance of gaining knowledge through sweat equity.
“If you don’t have the funds to really start to get in and build your business from the ground up get into the industry how you can” by working at any position you can find, he said.