Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Hope Wiseman
Hope Wiseman, The Nation's Youngest Black Dispensary Owner, Wants To Show You The Wonders Of Cannabis
Source: Photo courtesy of Jasmine Milan PRHope Wiseman is a little frustrated. Soon to be the youngest black woman in America to have her own cannabis dispensary, the last thing the entrepreneur needs is input from men who think she has no idea how to run a business. And yet, the construction workers tasked with building Wiseman's dispensary are more focused on questioning her credibility than finishing their job.
"I've dealt with people underestimating me in every situation my whole life being a black woman," Wiseman said. "As women we tend to get underestimated, especially me as a 25-year-old."
Still, she's undeterred. Soon, Mary & Main — Wiseman's dispensary — will open its doors to the Glenn Dale community she was born and raised in. Those who've known her since she was a child may be surprised to see the "all-American good girl" — as Wiseman described her adolescent self — venturing into this industry. But the entrepreneur is trying to live by her namesake: instilling hope — but with cannabis.
"God is real. He's on my side because this is what I'm supposed to be doing," Wiseman said. "I feel fulfilled. I feel like I'm understanding my purpose finally, and it feels great."
Wiseman comes from a family of matriarchs. Her grandmother was an entrepreneur and her mother, Dr. Octavia Simkins-Wiseman, is an entrepreneur and dentist. To Wiseman, that entrepreneurial spirit is hereditary: the driving force that helped her excel in everything from academics to dance competitions to pageants. By 14 she already had her first job as a front desk clerk at a dentist office.
After high school she attended Spelman College in Atlanta, where she majored in economics in hopes of becoming an investment banker. Upon graduating, Wiseman worked for SunTrust Robinson Humphrey where she sold stock research to fund managers.
Nine months later, Wiseman lost her job at SunTrust. The loss was a necessary moment of reevaluation for Wiseman — a reminder of the entrepreneurial lineage she comes from. Not only did she want to start her own business. She wanted to help her community and black people across the country with her business too.
Making Mary & Main a reality was an arduous and lengthy procedure for Wiseman. First, the state has only legalized medicinal cannabis. Second, the state is highly regulated, meaning that a limited amount of licenses can be offered. This makes applying for a license very competitive — it's basically first come first serve for dispensaries.
Wiseman didn't waste any time. She convinced her mother to join the business as a co-founder, showing her how profitable the industry was, as well as its need for diversity. The pair then worked on the application process for a license, devoting 20 hours a day for a week to it. When Wiseman wasn't working on the application, she was attending hearings to stay up to date on cannabis regulations.
"The regulations came out in 2014. It's 2018. We all applied in 2016," Wiseman explained. "We got a license at the end of 2016, and we're all just now opening."
Only 102 dispensaries were approved in 2016. Since then, 34 have opened. Soon, Mary & Main will join them.
"We were a part of the first group of licensees ever in Maryland," Wiseman said.
Photo Credit: Jasmine Milan PR
Wiseman has always had an interest in cannabis. A recreational user since 14, she understands the enjoyment of marijuana. But it wasn't until adulthood where she realized its importance as a medicine. Now, she can prescribe different strains and different ways to use cannabis based on one's ailment or personal preference. Want a strain that's more energizing than relaxing? Try sativa. Want to smoke out of something that isn't bongs, rolling papers or Swishers? Try vaping. Don't want to smoke at all but still want to use cannabis as a treatment? Try tinctures, transdermal patches, bath salts or perfumes. In other words, cannabis comes with options.
"There's something in there for a 25-year-old male and there's something there for a 80-year-old woman," Wiseman said. "I think that's all exciting that one plant can do so many different things, and serve so many different people."
But the medicinal benefits of marijuana wasn't the only factor that made Wiseman interested in the industry. She also wanted to diversify it. In a 2017 report from the Marijuana Business Daily, only four percent of African-Americans were business owners and founders. Women of color occupy a little over five percent of senior roles in the industry. In contrast, black people are incarcerated more than any other race in America for marijuana possession. A 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union discovered that black people were close to four times more likely than white people to be arrested for having marijuana.
"Racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests are widespread and exist in every region in the country," the report read. "In the Northeast and Midwest, Blacks are over four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. In the South, Blacks are over three times more likely, and in the West, they are twice more likely."
Although marijuana arrests for African-Americans have dropped following the legalization of the substance in several states and cities, large racial disparities still exist. A report from Vox released in January this year found that in Washington D.C., "Black people were arrested for possession at a rate of 8 per 100,000 people in 2016, while white people were arrested at a rate of 2 per 100,000 — four times less."
Wiseman has to combat not only the stigma of cannabis, but the stigma of being black and working in cannabis. Fortunately, she's not alone. Along with her mother, Wiseman's Mary & Main is also backed by Dr. Larry Bryant and Dexter Parker, who are credited as co-founders.
The dispensary will have three areas: an experience room; a co-working suite; and a medical suite. The experience room will function like an Apple Store but for cannabis. Customers will be greeted by onsite experts who'll suggest different options based on their medical history. Patients will also be able to see and smell samples of the cannabis. Once they're done making their selections they go and pay at check out.
As a customer frequents the dispensary more their rapport with their expert becomes better, and they can take advantage of the store's ordering system.
"If you wanted to order in advance or if it's a long line in the waiting room, we'll have a few iPads," Wiseman said. "You could just go right in, you could pre-order online before you come, and then just walk right in, and go up to the check-out desk."
The co-working suite will host networking events and educational classes, with the classes touching on everything from the science of cannabis to the war on drugs. Lastly, the medical suite will have onsite doctors for patients that want an in-depth explainer of how cannabis can treat their ailment. The suite also includes a demo kitchen where Wiseman hopes to teach people how to cook with cannabis.
"You hear about all the time someone eats edibles, and then they go a little crazy? That's because it's just hard to measure the dosage," Wiseman said. "We'll teach you different ways of infusing and extracting it, and putting it into your food."
Mary & Main is a testament to Wiseman's work ethic and inventiveness: a millennial trying to bring cannabis to the future. Yes, some days the burden of being a young black woman in this industry is overwhelming.
She can practically count on both hands the number of people who look like her who are cannabis bosses. There's Wanda James, the first black woman in Colorado to own a dispensary, Simply Pure; Dr. Chanda Macias, the owner of National Holistic Healing Center (NHHC), the number one dispensary in Washington, D.C.; and Sue Taylor, one of the country's first black senior citizen dispensary owners — iCANN Health Center in Berkeley, CA — to name a few.
But like these women, and countless other women of color in the cannabis industry, Wiseman sees the value and the need of her representation.
"It's heavy because I don't want to let anyone down," Wiseman said. "I know I'm putting myself on the front lines and I'm proud to be the youngest African-American [woman] to do this, but I don't want to be the last. I want somebody to knock the title from me."
Following the opening of Mary & Main, Wiseman will continue to expand her presence in the cannabis industry. She wants to be a speaker at MJBizCon, the biggest cannabis convention in the country. She wants to give TED Talks. And she wants to meet Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Rihanna and Martha Stewart. She'll inevitably achieve all of this and more, because she's going to work until she does.
"I need to work on this business because I need to give this back to the community," Wiseman said. "I think I've already inspired so many people to get into this industry. I've already won."