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Oakland Is Sweet On a Social Equity Incubator for Edibles

A first-of-its-kind social equity kitchen will be home to five equity recipients.

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The City of Oakland just took a monumental step forward in launching what may become a model for other equity-minded municipalities.

Thomas Winz | Getty Images

City officials announced a $250,000 contract to EquityWorks! Incubator, which will incubate the businesses of five Equity Fellows in the infused-cannabis space. Each of the five participants will have access to upwards of $200,000 financial support from the City of Oakland and State of California.

This first-of-its-kind social equity kitchen plans to cook up profitable and compliant cannabis businesses owned and operated by cannabis entrepreneurs from communities historically targeted by the War on Drugs.

Related: Why Marijuana-Infused Edibles Are a Huge Opportunity for Entrepreneurs

Righting a wrong

Despite all the growth in the cannabis industry for the past ten years, black and brown owned businesses have made very little progress creating real economic and social equity.

These cannabis brands represent only three percent of California's cannabis companies. Meanwhile, the edibles category is California's fastest and largest growing segment, with 20 percent year-over-year growth. There cannot be equity for Black and Brown people if they're missing out on 97 percent of the legal cannabis business's wealth creation.

EquityWorks! Incubator should minimize the barriers to entry into cannabis manufacturing businesses (edibles and infused products), which have steep capital requirements due to the combination of expensive infrastructure, ongoing manufacturing costs, and strict regulatory requirements.

Origin story

The Incubator is the brainchild of Amber E. Senter, a long time Cannabis advocate and entrepreneur. She is CEO of Breeze Distro, co-founder of Supernova Women. As a Black woman, she has first-hand experience with the challenges for entrepreneurs of color. Under Senter's leadership, the EquityWorks! Incubator will offer economies of scale, training, and distribution for the 5 Equity Fellows.

Senter says that it took almost three years of her team's advocacy and lobbying work to get the City of Oakland to make this shared kitchen incubator a reality. She is eager to pay it forward and to help others navigate and succeed in the cannabis industry.

"My job is to help other social equity operators navigate the process of creating a product, get it on shelves, and, most importantly, build profitable businesses," she says. "It's not enough for folks to simply get a license and launch a product, I want them driving real revenues and building wealth." No doubt, equity equals ownership.

Related: The Unheard Voices of the Cannabis Social Equity Movement

Barriers still exist

Eliminating barriers to entry for those who are less privileged is just the first step. Unfortunately, most equity programs barely get that far. Despite having spirited and committed cannabis justice advocates on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, social equity licenses have been slow to roll out in that state. It took years to award just north of 20 social equity and economic empowerment licenses, only a few of which are actually up and running. Meanwhile, in Oakland, the cannabis equity capital of the world, there are over 150 Cannabis equity licensed businesses in operation right now.

This new model pioneered in Oakland by Senter provides more than just a slight advantage on a cannabis business license application, which has become the go-to way that virtue-signaling regulators "promote equity." By providing access to capital, workforce development, training, and focused support from seasoned operators, this new equity program has a chance to make a real difference, by empowering those who previously lacked access to build compliant and profitable Cannabis businesses.

The City of San Francisco is already following suit. It is currently offering social equity operators of sole proprietorships grants of up to $100K and currently accepting proposals for new innovative equity programs similar to the partnership between Oakland and EquityWorks!.

Two of the country's cannabis arrest capitals may soon be expanding their cannabis ecosystems. New Jersey voters will decide on adult-use cannabis this November, and New York state is expected to follow closely behind. Hopefully, cities in these states will follow in the footsteps of Oakland, which enacted programs and offered resources to entrepreneurs of all backgrounds in the new cannabis economy. This kind of economic equity is an essential part of the restorative justice necessary to undo the many harms of Cannabis prohibition.

Related: A Social Equity Success Story in Oakland