This may be the first time you’ve read about Hope Wiseman, but it certainly won’t be the last. Why, you may wonder? Well, at the age of 25, she is the youngest Black woman dispensary owner in America. She’s also the founder of Compassionate Herbal Alternative, an enterprise that creates opportunities for minorities who have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
Hope Wiseman is a testament to tenacity, vision and compassion and Ms. Wiseman aims to transform her community – and beyond – from both a wellness and economical standpoint. Along with her business partners, Dr. Octavia Simkins-Wiseman, Dr. Larry Bryant and Dexter Parker, she awaits the opening of Mary and Main in Prince George’s County, Maryland in December of 2017. The dispensary will be the one of the first in the county.
EstroHaze is pleased to present the following dialogue with the ganjapreneurial trailblazer. Hope Wiseman’s exciting journey is anecdotal evidence that with the proper strategy, and the hard work to back it up, dreams can actually become actualized.
I’m curious about your background. Where are you from and how did your journey lead you to become the youngest Black woman dispensary owner?
Wiseman: I grew up in Prince George’s County in Maryland, where my dispensary will be. I grew up doing pageants and dance competitions. I ended up going to Spelman college in Atlanta, GA. I was an economics major and I spent my time in school working towards becoming an investment banker. I interned on Wall Street one summer and ended up at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey in Atlanta once I graduated in 2014. At the same time, I was a Falcons cheerleader, so I was doing a lot back then. My experience as an investment banker and economics major led me to follow trends a lot and look at emerging industries. That’s how I my interest in the cannabis industry was sparked, from an economic perspective.
I started doing more research. I learned that medical marijuana had just become legalized in Maryland and that they were starting the application process for licensing. I’d gone to my mother (Dr. Octavia Simkins-Wiseman), who’s very entrepreneurial. She’s a dentist and has owned many businesses over the years. I presented the opportunity to her. She agreed that this is something that our community needs and they need it from someone they can trust – someone who’s been a part of the community for years. We have a third business partner Dr. Larry Bryan who is also a trusted member of our community.
We just went full force, not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into at first. We had no experience with the industry but over the past three years we really made a name for ourselves.
Now that we’ve won a dispensary license, we’re in the process of applying in other states. We plan on applying for grow and processing licenses as well.
What type of dance competitions did you take part in and how were you influenced by those early experiences?
I competed in tap, ballet, modern jazz, like the Dance Moms show. I also did pageants. I traveled a lot when I was young and got to meet people from so many different states, and different backgrounds. It helped me understand something: I came from an area that was predominantly African American and affluent.
As a young person I thought it was normal for Black people to have money. As I got older, I realized that was not the case. Even within the cannabis industry, African Americans only make up one percent of owners and high level execs.
By the age of 22, I knew I had the ability to develop a platform to inspire other people to do it. It’s one thing to hear a 60-year-old woman who made it in the industry saying “I think more young people need to get involved,” versus a millennial actually doing it.
My message is: “I did it, you can do it too.”
Have you had any personal experience with cannabis?
My personal experience has really come from people around me. I found that a lot of people call themselves recreational smokers. I think everybody who is positively affected by cannabis is a medicinal smoker. We just need to continue to do the research and development to be able to explain that to patients. To explain that one person may not feel as paranoid on cannabis as another person because their body has certain receptors that react to a certain strain in a particular way.
That’s the approach that my company is taking. We really want to come from an educational standpoint and for people to understand what it is they’re using and how they can use it. There’s more to it than just smoking the flower. There’s so many other ways to ingest the product. We just want to educate people on all the different wonders of the plant.
What makes Mary & Main unique?
We’re not going to offer the typical mom and pop establishment experience where you just walk in and find some weed in a jar. The facility is huge. We have over 5000 square feet and it’s really going to be an experience when you walk into our dispensary. Our employees will all be extremely educated on the plant itself so you’ll be able to have a conversation and get to understand what you’re using.
Every patient will go through an intake process where we will break down the endocannabinoid system (which is inside of all of us) and the receptors that connect to the plant as you’re using it. That’s why the body reacts in different ways based on different strains. That’s the differentiator.
We’ll have the most premium products at an affordable price and we’ll offer a wide variety of products. We have an event space where we will hold activities. We are trying to make our first store a complete experience. We don’t want you to just come in and walk out.
What kind of events will be offered to your patients?
We’ll provide educational events like Cannabis 101 and events about the business side. A passion of mine is encouraging millennials and minorities to get into the industry. Organizations that we are partnered with, like Women Grow, can hold events in our facility as well. We’d like it to be a hub for cannabis education and networking events.
How long did it take to get licensed?
It’s been about 3 years.
Can you explain the process for our readers interested in launching their own businesses?
The process of getting licensed is very difficult and often not explained. Every state has a different one.
The first step is to figure out what state you want to operate in.
Next, find the state regulations and figure out those that are specific to your region, or city. The state then opens the application process. After you apply, you wait to see if you’ve received a license, which can take up to a year.
It can be extremely difficult because information isn’t readily available. There aren’t websites that help you navigate through the process. You have to do the research for yourself.
What is the industry like in Maryland?
A lot of people don’t even know that it’s legal here. We have about 13,000 patients signed up in the state, which is not a large number considering the amount of people who live in Maryland.
On the other hand, the DC market is doing well and they only have 6,000 patients registered since it was legalized a few years ago. I think that the market will pick up once people start seeing the buildings go up and products become available. The market in Maryland is projected to be one of the biggest in the East coast.
Do you still have a full time job or are you committed to this venture on a full-time basis?
I am completely dedicated to this. I stopped working this summer and I spent the summer filming a reality show which will air this January called WAGS Atlanta.
Do you have a time for a personal life?
To be honest, no, and it’s something I’m struggling with. As a millennial, it’s hard when you’re trying to do something this ambitious and still trying to be 25. Now I understand the saying that it’s lonely at the top. I’m feeling it now. It’s hard for me to keep in touch with everyone. I need my sleep, I can’t be out every night until 3 am.
When will Mary & Main open for business?
We plan on having a soft opening around Christmas. We’re probably not going to have our grand opening until the beginning of 2018.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since embarking upon this venture, and how did you persevere?
The biggest challenge was money. I was fortunate because I come from a finance background. I exhausted all of my contacts and was able to raise money, plus my group shell-funded a lot of it. We were able to get funding from a bank as well, which is very unique in this industry.
Another obstacle that I’m still overcoming is the stigma. Even though we won a license to operate in Prince George’s County, a lot of the council people want nothing to do with us. Many of the community centers don’t want to rent space to us. Some of the police aren’t even on board.
I think that education will break down that stigma and that is our main objective right now – as we await our grand opening. We’re trying to educate our community and our community leaders because some of them are not open to the benefits of medicinal cannabis.
Do you feel you face any unique obstacles being an African American woman in the industry?
Yes, I feel like I’m a triple minority because I’m a woman, a minority and I’m only 25. When I walk into a room by myself and I’m representing our company, they immediately don’t take me seriously. Most of the time I have to prove myself.
I find that I have to look impeccable at all times, I can’t joke too much or laugh too much. I have to be very professional and that’s how I gain respect. Before we won the license, people took me less seriously. I felt like I was being treated like a little Black girl that wanted to open a weed shop, rather than a women who’s accomplished, educated, and capable of running a successful cannabis firm.
For me, this is much bigger than selling cannabis. It’s about helping patients and inspiring a group of people to enter an industry that can change the economy that we live in.
What are your future plans for this enterprise?
I want Mary & Main to be a house hold cannabis brand. I’d like to open more dispensaries in other states and for it to become a national brand.
We are also in the process of developing some cannabis related products that will hopefully come out within the next year or two. I would also like to mentor and consult to help people get into the industry and show them how to navigate the application process.
Do you have any advice for aspiring ganjapreneurs?
Go to as many networking events as possible in the beginning until you meet the right people. Once you meet them, be persistent.
Seek out knowledge and stay on top of the regulations because they’re forever changing and they shape our entire industry.
In terms of raising capital, more people are opening up to the idea of medicinal cannabis, so there’s more investor money to be found now – even more so than 3 years ago.
Another solution to lack of funding is to start an ancillary company, one where there aren’t as many regulatory and financial obligations, and save up enough money while gaining experience and contacts within the industry. That way, when you do have enough money, you’ll have more experience and won’t be going in blind.
Hope’s journey continues…