by Catherine Brinkman
It’s a controversial subject, this plant called weed. Do we decriminalize and remove it from the schedule one drug list? Should we admit that it has medical properties that can be used to treat chronic illness while our country is in the throngs of an opiate epidemic? Or should we legalize weed altogether, make it recreational and tax it? These are questions that aren’t going to be answered in the next six months. But as more and more prominent members of the business community continue to be vocal about marijuana and how it helps them, there is hope that less African-Americans will be arrested and incarcerated over possessing marijuana.
You can put a face to one of those prominent members of the business community offering hope and ironically enough, her name is Hope.
Hope Wiseman is the youngest African-American female owner of a dispensary in the United States, at 25 years old. After researching and asking friends I will conclude she is also one of the only few people of color that owns a marijuana operation in the country. Hope takes the stereotypical image of a stoner and blows that in the smoke.
Born and raised in Prince George’s County in Maryland, Hope is a former pageant queen that attended college at Spelman College and majored in economics. During her summers at Spelman, she spent time on Wall Street interning for one of the top three investment banking firms. Once she graduated, she was a cheerleader for the Atlanta Falcons and earned her real estate license for the state of Georgia. Throughout this time, Hope kept her eye on the trends in the stock market and the marijuana green rush caught her eye. After drawing a line in the sand, determining that a career in investment banking wasn’t for her, she stepped into the budding new industry of weed. “I wanted to be in a field of women making noise and having fun,” Hope tells me.
There are a lot of people that want to get in on the weed game. Most think that it will be quick and easy money. Like you walk to your local business office to ask for a business license, grow your plants and collect millions in a few months. This isn’t even close to the reality and Hope knew that going into this venture. She was quick to make connections in the Atlanta area through Women Grow, a cannabis industry women’s organization.
In 2014, Maryland voted to allow medical marijuana to be legally sold in the state. Hope wanted to open a business in Prince George’s County. She turned to her mom, Dr. Octavia Simkins-Wiseman a dentist, along with Dr. Larry Bryant, also a dentist and Dexter Parker. All four of them agreed that this was a business worth investing in. They formed Mary and Main. You hear the play on words when the name is said. The name also aligns directly with Hope’s goal of making marijuana more mainstream.
In 2014, the green rush was just beginning and very few cannabis industry experts knew enough to help with the business application process. “We were spending $20,000 to $30,000 at a time and finding out people didn’t know what they were doing,” she remembers. In addition to hiring consultants to help fill out the application, the application process itself is expensive. In many cases finding a building that is zoned properly and available is the main cause of not being awarded a license. “We self-financed and did the research ourselves, piecing application processes together.” Mary and Main applied for a grow, processing and dispensary license. Those are three separate application processes and fees. When asked why, “We want Mary and Main to be vertically integrated, so we can oversee growing and processing. We will want to create our own products with our internal research and development team to grow strains patients need.”
Mary and Main applied for their licenses in Prince Georges County. Hope quickly discovered she was “going up against all white guys.” Those are the people predominately growing marijuana commercially, white males. “Then there are the financiers, buying $10 million buildings, starting build out before they even get their licenses.” In Prince George’s County nearly 33% of the population is African-American. Hope believes, “Who is awarded licenses should reflect the population of the state.” Hope and her team spent nearly $650,000 to get their dispensary license. They were not able to secure a grow and processing license this round. Only one local council member verbally offered support this first round.
This is where the cannabis industry gets even dicer. The license Mary and Main were awarded is seen as a Stage 1 license, meaning you must have your building built, properly zoned and built out to meet county codes by the end of the year. The business should be operational, serving their first patient by mid-December. Once this is complete you are eligible to move forward to Stage 2 to keep your license and remain operational.
While medical marijuana is legal, law enforcement isn’t exactly happy to see the marijuana industry in Maryland. Hope has done a lot of “Buffering and presentations to help people see I’m not the typical owner. People start respecting me more. There’s a lot of convincing to do to get rid of the stigma.”
Hope and her investors secured their building and have built out the 5000 square-foot facility to create an experience for patients. “We want our patients to come to us and during intake realize why they are using and which strain is best for them. We have an event space with a demo kitchen to help patients learn to cook with cannabis for those that don’t want to smoke.”
Hope is the COO of Mary and Main. She oversees the day-to-day operations and will have a team of employees “who can speak the science of cannabis but still relate to the patient and educate to their needs.”
But Hope is very dimensional. Like many people in cannabis are: It’s like one foot is in the marijuana industry, the other foot is in a mainstream industry. In Hope’s case, she has her other foot in Atlanta.
January 2018, Hope will appear on E!’s WAGS (Wives and Girlfriends of Sports Stars). Hope dated a football player previously and has strong ties with the NFL from her cheerleading days. In her WAGS bio she is listed as the owner of the medical marijuana dispensary. This is a true testament to how much public opinion has changed on marijuana in the past years. “I am happy and proud. I feel like it’s a big deal that E! allowed that.“
Hope excitedly told me she plans on using the show “to help people be their full versions of themselves and still achieve their dreams. People forget who they are and put pieces of themselves away in order to achieve their dreams.”
NFL players fall into the bucket of putting pieces of themselves away in order to play in the league. Hope knows players that would rather use cannabis to treat their injuries then get shots and take pills. “The NFL should be open to the conversation of cannabis research. Players shouldn’t be suspended when using cannabis for recovery and concussion treatment.” Also take into consideration that states with NFL teams have legalized marijuana and it is now a recreational activity, falling into the same category as having a cocktail. “The commissioner of the NBA is open to the conversation around marijuana. The NFL should be too.”
Hope cites the fact that most of us know; there are no reported deaths as a result from marijuana. “People that use need to stop being embarrassed and talk about why they use. They need to explain how it helps them. There are a lot of productive members of society who use and have been using for years, in silence. Be loud and proud to start the conversation,” the passion comes through in Hope’s voice when she is telling me this.
Hope herself suffers from severe anxiety and medicates on occasion. Her mother Octavia was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She never contemplated using marijuana to help with the pain or healing before getting involved in the industry and learning more about marijuana’s medical properties. Today Octavia is learning firsthand and telling others how healing the plant is once ingested.
Hope ultimately wants to own multiple marijuana operations in various states and consult with other female minorities to help them gain entry into the cannabis industry. It makes sense that her hashtag is #HopeSoDope
About the writer: Catherine Brinkman has a sales career spanning 2 decades. She has won numerous awards including Rookie of the Year and Silver Sales Associate for Dale Carnegie, a global training company. In early 2016, Catherine started her own consulting business, partnering with sales and marketing teams to increase revenue. She works with everyone from Silicon Valley giants to small startups. She has a fun, comic approach to her consulting, having studied satirical writing at The Second City. She can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @catbrinkman