As marijuana legalization sweeps across the nation, cannabis has become a thriving, $13 billion industry. And yet Black business owners account for less than 5% of the legal cannabis sector—a highly troubling disparity given that Black communities have long endured disproportionate rates of drug-related arrests and incarceration. In response, The Hood Incubator is leveraging marijuana legalization to build economic power for Black communities and redress America’s legacy of racial inequity. The Oakland, California–based Hood Incubator utilizes organizing, policy advocacy, and economic development strategies to ensure that these communities have access to the one million legal cannabis jobs projected in the U.S. by 2025. To get there, the Incubator envisions a comprehensive, collaborative-based workforce development program that builds career ladders in the cannabis industry’s fast-growing advanced manufacturing segment. The program would move Black workers from low-wage to middle-wage to career-level roles, fostering intergenerational wealth and economic mobility. What’s more, by using cannabis equity as a lynchpin for other social justice issues, the Incubator’s inclusive economics also helps end community isolation and advance place-based political agency. The Hood Incubator thus stands as a hopeful model for other industries, proving that business can center marginalized people and drive transformative racial justice.
The Hood Incubator leverages marijuana legalization to provide redress and build economic power for Black communities harmed by the drug war. Putting community at the forefront of our work, The Hood Incubator is creating models of best practice for restorative economic development while fomenting the growth of a cannabis industry ecosystem of support that benefits and repairs Black communities. We use community organizing, policy advocacy, and economic development strategies to facilitate pathways to entrepreneurship, career opportunity, and community leadership for our members. Our work is about promoting agency, autonomy, and self-determination for Black communities through the legal cannabis industry.
The seed of the idea started to coalesce for me while I was in business school between 2014 and 2016, seeing all the news about cannabis legalization and seeing virtually no representation of Black communities. Knowing that those communities have taken on most of the harms of the drug war, I wanted to do something to ensure they benefit from the economic opportunities of the growing cannabis industry. More risk, more reward: we’ve taken on the risks associated with prohibition, so now we deserve access to the rewards of legalization.
The marijuana industry is growing rapidly and changing every day. Given the early stage of the industry’s maturation, there’s still a lot of volatility and uncertainty in the market and on the legislative and political levels. We have to navigate that uncertainty by remaining exceptionally nimble as an organization and by focusing on building long-term relationships with our partners and key stakeholders based on shared values and a vision for change.
The everyday leaders in everyday families and communities: the people who are making a way out of no way every single day. I want my work to be in service of those leaders, who usually don’t get the attention or the opportunity. These people aren’t often seen as experts or leaders and don’t usually get the privilege of knowing that their lives are an inspiration to others. Those are really the leaders who inspire me most and who inform the work that I do.
One of our members is a woman in her late 40s, with six kids and two grandkids, who has been in the informal cannabis economy most of her life. She has been convicted and everything else. She was making less than $1,000 per month and is now making almost ten times that much by participating in Oakland’s cannabis equity permit program.
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