Hope Wiseman: Taking Cannabis Enterprise Beyond the Storefront
Posted on February 28th, 2022 to Black History Month
At the Vermont chapter of NORML, we feel it’s not only important, but vital, to treat every month of the year as Black History Month. Although federal recognition of Black History Month holds tremendous value, it does not begin to rectify the social and institutional injustices that are still felt across Black communities to this day. Experts and community members agree that rectification begins to enter the equation through the existence of Black ownership in industries that used to almost exclusively benefit white folks and corporate owners. Through this, financial and economic resources remain within majority-BIPOC communities where they can be used to amass generational wealth and promote other Black entrepreneurial efforts.
Hope Wiseman is doing just that in the cannabis industry. In 2018, at the age of 29, Wiseman opened Mary and Main, effectively becoming the youngest Black woman to own and operate a cannabis dispensary in the United States. After graduating from Spelman College with a degree in economics, Wiseman worked as an Equity Institutional Sales Analyst for SunTrust, a small Atlanta based bank, gaining valuable experience and knowledge along the way. After a year in this role, it became clear that her business and financial savviness had set her up to open and maintain a successful business, benefitting her and her community. This was the beginning of a long road ahead, one that could result in fruitful paths through which she could set herself up for success and reap the benefits of long-term socioeconomic prosperity.
Although her very existence as a Black woman entrepreneur in the cannabis industry breaks molds and norms on its own, Wiseman takes it one step further by making her dispensary so much more than just a storefront. In a 2021 interview with CBS, Wiseman says, “The war on drugs took out heads of households of so many Black families, which has completely disenfranchised the community. We want to give back to those families that have been incarcerated and disenfranchised.”
To this end, Mary and Main offers accessible online classes that cover pertinent topics like criminal justice reform, health equity, social equity and the history of cannabis. Further still, in a 2019 interview with Marijuana Venture, Wiseman describes her team’s vision for developing a ‘workforce utilization program.’ This type of educational entrepreneurialism has been hailed by social equity advocates as the rightway to provide meaningful benefits to disproportionately impacted communities. The desire to help her community was born from her interactions with people who possess the drive to join the industry but lack the expertise and capital to do so.
“We feel like we can develop a program where if we hire somebody on an entry-level position, we have specific classes and different milestones to reach so that they know they’re making progress and learning,” says Wiseman, describing the program’s intended process. With efforts like this in practice, it’s very likely that the bar to enter the cannabis industry would be much lower and the industry itself would become legitimately accessible and lucrative for many Black folks.
According to a 2017 study done by Marijuana Business Daily, slightly more than 4% of cannabis business owners and founders are Black. However startling this may be, community efforts like those offered by Mary and Main, provides a path forward where this percentage will grow. Aside from targeted legislation, consumer choice is the most reliable way to help ensure this happens. In an industry defined by both historic and present-day racialized criminalization, supporting businesses like Mary and Main is vital. When Black-owned businesses succeed, there is a ripple effect felt within the community that can translate into financial gains that span generations.
Thank you to Hope Wiseman and the team at Mary and Main for creating a resourceful space that prioritizes the needs of BIPOC entrepreneurs and helps further the idea that the cannabis industry shall not be reserved solely for white folks with capital.
Written and edited by Ella Guinan