Black communities were disproportionately affected by the enforcement of pre-legalization cannabis laws as noted by Professor Owusu-Bempah as part of his work for the Cannabis Amnesty Campaign. And while contributing to the ongoing fight for pardons and expungements of simple possession records is one important way to help right these wrongs, another is advancing Black participation in the regulated market as business owners and thought leaders.
As they move forward, many Black Retailers are also looking back, referencing cannabis traditions that span cultures and generations. It’s a way to tap into a legacy of knowledge while building new businesses. Here are three Black-owned stores that we’re celebrating this month.
Cori owner Lula Fukur had a very clear vision when she opened two sunny locations on Toronto’s hip Queen West strip. She knew she wanted a store where everyone — especially women — are excited to shop, and to create a unique retail concept where her passion for general wellness products would elevate her cannabis offerings. The result is a clever mix of non-cannabis goods like natural bath soaks, and skincare sold alongside a curated collection of cannabis in what feels a lot like an upscale beauty store. “Growing up in Africa, I developed an intimate relationship with everything that came from the earth,” says Fukur. “Wellness sprouted from the natural plants and herbs hand picked from our soil. There’s a simplicity to it that I love and I try to keep that in mind when it comes to choosing what we carry.”
Fukur’s family moved to Canada 10 years ago, and while her background is in IT, she always wanted to put down roots here with a store that also serves as a community hub. Now Cori brings in other Black female entrepreneurs to host workshops on things like cooking with cannabis and cannabis and women’s sexual health. Content on Cori’s website and social channels often focuses on Black female wellness entrepreneurs. “Black people were the ones who were discriminated against because of cannabis,” she says. “They went to prison, a lot of bad things happened to them, so it’s very important for me that there’s representation from the community.”
Hidden Leaf Cannabis Co., Brampton and Toronto
Marissa Taylor, the general manager of both family-owned Hidden Leaf locations, is hoping that their stores can do their part to erase the stigma about cannabis use in the Black community. “Cannabis was a part of African culture for spiritual purposes and for healing long before it became a source of racialized discrimination,” she says. “We’re working every day to build trust in the Black community around legal cannabis use.
For Taylor, part of that stigma-erasing power comes from the design of their stores. They’re purposely elegant — think glass display cabinets, geometric chandeliers, and black and gold accents — and feel like a jewelry boutique. “My Grandma came and she said, ‘I didn’t expect it to look like this!’ I was like, ‘What did you think? It was just going to be plumes of smoke everywhere and nobody doing their job?’” laughs Taylor.
Taylor hopes to find and highlight products and cannabis accessories that are from Black-owned businesses and Licensed Producers. Hidden Leaf also has a diverse hiring policy, not only because it means providing career opportunities to people of colour, but also because it makes the stores more welcoming and inclusive. “We try to make sure that there are people who identify as BIPOC working in all our locations and in leadership roles, too. Brampton and the GTA are so diverse. When customers come in, we want them to see versions of themselves.”
The 4SSST, Uxbridge
“Customers often joke that you must need dreadlocks to be hired here,” says The 4SSST (pronounced “forest”) owner Timothy Puckerin. That’s because Timothy, his wife, who is a co-owner, and his son, the manager, all proudly rock dreads. “As Rasta people, we’re pioneers of cannabis,” he says. “It’s been associated with our tradition for hundreds of years.” The 4SSST’s logo includes the Rasta red, gold and green, and the store is often playing classic reggae tunes. “The store’s brand and character are a reflection of us, our culture and our family. For generations to come you will always find a family member present learning from the old heads what’s good and what’s not.”
Puckerin has an entrepreneurial background — he ran a small engine repair business before this latest venture — but he’s new to the cannabis industry. “It’s so hard to get your business set up, and then when you do, you’re battling millionaires. Nothing about this industry says Black people should get into it.” He feels lucky that The 4SSST has been a success, which he partially attributes to his prime location in a busy strip mall. He hopes to expand with franchises and is on the hunt for partners. “I did my first emergency order in my first three days after opening, I’ve been rocking it out over here. There’s no looking back now.”