EXCLUSIVE: Supernova Women Shine Light onto Shade of Inequality in Cannabis

The name ‘Supernova Women’ practically speaks for itself. Founded by ganjapreneurs Amber Senter, Nina Parks, and Tsion Sunshine Lencho (and most recently, Andrea Unsworth), Supernova is an organization created to empower women of color to have a real stake within the flourishing cannabis economy.

Although their mission statement extends to all, Supernova Women specifically creates a safe space for women who strive to thrive in cannabis. Launched in 2015, the one-of-a-kind organization fosters a safe, nurturing community as well as workshops that provide a wide range of education, advocacy training and the overall tools and network needed to succeed within the industry.

Founding member and canna-business owner Amber Senter recently spoke with EstroHaze about the birth of Supernova Women, what it takes to make it happen in today’s canna-climate and how, with our help, Supernova Women can bring true equity to the cannabis industry.

Tell us about the birth of Supernova Women.

Senter: Supernova was founded in November of 2015. Nina and I met in February of that year at a cannabis conference VIP event. Besides one other Black man, we noticed that we were the only other people of color in the room. We exchanged numbers and kept in touch. We would meet up and smoke by Lake Merritt or the Bay and talk about different things going on in the industry. Nina was very new to the industry. I’d been a part of it since 2007. I was tied to the industry through blogging. I was pretty familiar with people in California but I was still new to the region. I’d moved here from Chicago after living there for a year and a half. Prior to that I’d lived in Atlanta for 10 years.

Nina and I kept a dialogue going on how to include more people of color in the cannabis industry. In the summer of 2015, I met Sunshine at a Women Grow event. She was volunteering and seeking a cannabis job. At the time I was working for a consulting firm and I was able to offer her a job there the next day.

She and I began working together on the Maryland application process. We helped groups apply for cannabis businesses licenses in the state. We noticed were using our knowledge and skills to help White people get licensed. We felt really conflicted by that. It was like we were helping to gentrify the industry. We began to ask: How can we take all this information that we learned, and our experience, and share it with people of color?

Not long after, Nina and I met with Sunshine and developed Supernova. We decided to host two panels: One to discuss new laws and regulations and another for people operating within industry to share their expertise, triumphs and pitfalls that they face as people of color in the industry.

We held our first event, Shades of Green, in Oakland on January of 2016. We had a big turn out, it was standing room only. We realized that we were filling a need for valuable information so we held panels in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston, too.

Who is your message and resources geared towards?

All of our events are geared towards people of color but our panelists are always women of color. We invite people of all backgrounds to come but stress in all of our marketing materials that these are events that are put on by women of color for people of color.

Supernova Women also offers ex-offender advocacy and education, correct?

Yes, we partner with agencies like the California Clean Slate Program which provides clinics. We also frequently post information about where to go to have records expunged for free.

Supernova Women presents nationwide events but you all are Bay Area ganjaprenuers in your own right. Your newest member Andrea Unsworth, who joined Supernova in May, 2016, is the founder of East Bay based cannabis delivery collective, StashTwist. Tell us about the ventures of the rest of the team.

Sunshine is an attorney for a large cannabis firm, Nina operates a delivery firm in San Francisco called Mirage Medicinal. I own and operate Leisure Life, an infused products company that makes popcorn, topicals and personal care products; California Rolls makes pre-rolls. At the time we started Supernova, I was running Magnolia Wellness, a dispensary in West Oakland. I was the COO there for about 14 months. While there I met my current business partner who was an investor and CFO of the dispensary. He’s Latino. We try to keep our whole company 100% people of color. We only have one White investor out of eight. The workers, staff are all POC.

My belief is: Don’t talk about it, be about it. There’s a lot of people going on panels talking about diversity but if you’re not actively diversifying the industry, then you’re just talking. Big deal. You have to be about it.

In terms of current political climate what are some of the concerns you and your colleagues have about the state of cannabis prohibition?

Everyone [in California] is concerned about getting a license as well as receiving the support that’s needed to operate a business.

People are always worried about the administration and what they’re doing but that’s not necessarily on the forefront, especially if you’re in the equity program in Oakland. Rents here are some of the highest in the country. Cannabis businesses are only allowed in certain parts of the city and those rents are 5-6 times higher than even the highest rents in the region. Everyone is really concerned about real estate and access to capital. Who’s gonna give a Black person money to operate a cannabis business that’s federally illegal? These are the major concerns, at least in California.

Rents are astronomical enough in the Bay Area. Why even higher for canna-businesses?

The city came up with the idea for cannabis businesses to be zoned in certain areas because they don’t want them to present a ‘nuisance’ to neighborhoods. Yet, there are liquor stores everywhere and liquor kills people. The landlords are privy to all this and when they find out their business are in the cannabis zone green space they know they can charge $6 per square foot instead of $1.50. Who can pay that? Capitalized business, a.k.a., not Black people.

How does Supernova assist those facing such financial obstacles?

We have people who come to our workshops and events that decide to start businesses. Our events put people in touch with others, like them who are going through the same type of thing so they collaborate and come up with ideas on how to navigate the space.

How do you think new recreational laws will impact POC within the industry?

It’s going to be interesting because now usage under the age of 21 could result in jail time. If you’re smoking on the street, that’s an offense too. Also, why is it being criminalized if you growing more than an allotted amount? That should be a license infraction. You shouldn’t go to jail for that, you should pay a fine. And [the government] should encourage you to get your license.

What are some of the signs of things you notice that give you hope for POC in cannabis?

I’m excited that people are talking about equity in cannabis and that people are recognizing that the industry was built on the backs of Black and Brown people. We were the ones who were affected. Our families were destroyed and we were the ones who went to jail. We get left out of everything and just the fact that people are learning about these equity programs and implementing them is very hopeful. In places like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, they even offer a form of reparations to these communities that have been negatively affected, which is very promising.

Can you share some advice for folks with designs on entering the field.

Do what you’re good at. A lot of people think that they go into the cannabis industry and start a business. If you are not good at retail, and you don’t have a lot of capital, I would not suggest it. It’s expensive, it is hard, and it’s not fun. It’s retail for real.

There’s other people who want to be a grower. If you’re not a master grower by now, you shouldn’t try to be a master grower. Do what you’re good at. There are a lot of people who have skills that transfer into the business. It’s a huge industry that needs a lot of support.

We need help on the ancillary side. There are so many products. There’s equipment that has to be designed. There’s software that’s needed. I got my first job within the industry in marketing and sales. My background is in print and marketing. Do what you’re good at.

Is Supernova Women hosting any upcoming events?

We’ve all been very busy in licensing mode but we are working on presenting a workshop in SF, hopefully at the end of November, that will provide a roadmap for how to apply for a license in the local jurisdiction.

How can people get involved?

Come to our events, network and help us grow.


Stay tuned for more info on upcoming events and stay in the know by keeping up with Supernova Women via Facebook and Instagram.

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