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Drake, B-Real, JAY-Z, Snoop, C.J. Wallace, Ray J, Redman, Method Man, and Wiz Khalifa have all taken advantage of the cannabis green rush, but the majority of Black people are being locked out of participating in the cannabis industry due to historical barriers like poverty over-policing. In response, the Cleveland School of Cannabis is addressing this gap by offering educational programs and job placement in the field.
Black stakeholders in the cannabis lane are coordinating efforts to stimulate Black participation. Al Harrington’s Viola Brands is one such player. He and his CMO, Ericka Pittman, utilize an education, entrepreneurship, expungement, and incubation approach to building 100 millionaires in the industry. Viola’s work overlaps with others in the space on a similar mission.
REVOLT caught up with Tyrone Russell and Kevin Greene, two of the brilliant minds behind the Cleveland School of Cannabis, to talk about how more Black people can get into the lucrative cannabis industry and effect change in the process.
What is your name and role at the Cleveland School of Cannabis?
Greene: Kevin Greene, vice president of the Cleveland School of Cannabis.
Russell: I’m Tyrone Russell and I am the president of Cleveland School of Cannabis.
How did the Cleveland School of Cannabis come about?
Greene: The Cleveland School of Cannabis was founded on the principle of creating a workforce development education company that would fill the gaps in the cannabis industry, understanding that as cannabis spread across the United States, there’s gonna be a lack of qualified candidates to be able fill all of these positions that are going to continue to open up day over day, as we continue to come out our of our prohibition. We knew that at the same time, there would be a job need, there would be a need for a general person that’s either not been able to acquire proper, consistent, or validated cannabis education, or lived in a state where they can actually get any type of work experience. We wanted to be the bridge for the general person to access the cannabis industry, and also leaders and stakeholders of the future as the cannabis industry grows.
Russell: It’s really identifying that need. Understanding that turnover is going to be high in the industry early on and the way we prevent companies from losing massive amounts of money is to make sure their equipped with people who can enter into the workforce with education behind what cannabis is and how to effectively promote their vision.
How did you end up working at the Cleveland School of Cannabis?
Russell: We own a marketing company called Faces International Marketing and when Cleveland School of Cannabis first started bringing up the idea of putting it together, the founder called on us as a marketing team. Our individual backgrounds fit perfectly with what he has trying to create as an entrepreneur. Kev has a long background in marketing and I have a long background in education on the college level. So, when we met, we knew that there were so many holes that needed to be corrected to make this idea fly. We got heavily involved when it was time to design and create a structure that reflected a real institution, and when it was time to start reaching out to get the proper approvals and accreditations. In that process, our history merged with the need that was out there.
Tell us about the Spread the Love Krayzie Bone scholarship.
Greene: With our backgrounds, we have a very big focus to create cultural impact not only in our local communities, but any community we do business in. The Krayzie Bone scholarship came through a partnership of like-minded organizations. His foundation Spread Love to All and the CSC figured out ways we could close the gaps and inequities that are currently showing in the cannabis industry. The numbers are clear and it’s straight forward. The cannabis industry and the prohibition of cannabis has disenfranchised communities of color and what we need to do at this point is be making sure these same communities have the opportunity to go ahead and enter the market. This one scholarship was specifically focused around the Glenville community, which is the community Krayzie Bone grew up back in Cleveland, OH.
Russell: When we linked with the Leaf of Legends team, he needed to find a way to give back to his community, and understanding Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and their history in the cannabis marketing, it was an opportunity for him to help transition some people that he’s seen impacted by the prohibition of cannabis.
Why do you think Black people are marginalized from the cannabis industry?
Greene: The why is rooted in so many systems. We think of the criminal justice system and what it has done, and how cannabis has been used as a tool to incarcerate so many different people over so many years. It makes a major ripple effect on so many different generations. America was founded on being able to go ahead and push boundaries, create new trends, and make money doing it. Blacks have continued to be left out. We’ve seen that with Reconstruction… WWII, when we think about housing, and it’s eerily similar to what we’re seeing now in the cannabis industry.
Al Harrington from Viola Brands wants to make 100 Black individuals millionaires through the cannabis business. Do you think CSC could help with that goal?
Russell: We’ve had several conversations with Al and actually back in June, he was the keynote speaker at graduation. We know that what he has set out to do with creating these Black millionaires in the space is spot on with what we’re doing. He might end up creating 65 Black millionaires one way and then need some educated folks that’s starting from nothing that we want to make them millionaires the other way.
What educational opportunities does CSC offer for those looking to work in the cannabis industry?
Greene: How could you possibly take advantage of opportunities in the marketplace if you’re not educated and ready for it? The first step to being prepared is to be educated and know where the facts are. We’re an ancillary business offering education in cannabis horticulture, cannabis dispensary, industrial hemp, medical applications, and cannabis processing. We’re also working on an executive track.
Russell: If THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol: The main ingredient in cannabis) is going to have high barriers to entry, there are other ways to get into the cannabis market that may not be THC cannabis, and hemp is the way. Like, oh they make that out of this? What if I tried to make it out of hemp? The whole CBD side and health enhancement aspect of it as well. Then, these business opportunities lead to trucking contracts and security contracts. People that may have sales skills can get into the market on the sales side. A lot of times people think about the growing side of cannabis, but there are so many other areas of entry.
What is your favorite part about your job?
Greene: When someone comes in and they’re skeptical… someone not believing in you but you showing out and they get that experience and transition. That is my favorite part of this whole process.
Russell: It’s the ability to create in this open market. Being able to sit down with my best friend and brainstorm. It’s to provide opportunities to people that never thought they would have the opportunity to enter this space.
Who has helped you in the cannabis industry, as a mentor or partner?
Russell: I always tell this story: We were going to the Dominican Republic. Our guy that takes care of our accommodation said he had another client he wanted us to meet. I got his itinerary and found out which plane he was on and got the seats right behind him. Right before we landed and everybody had to take of their headphones, I got Kev going. I asked him about all of our work and why we as Black men weren’t getting the contracts that we knew we deserved in our own city. I’m hyping him up and he’s going in while I was paying attention to the dude in front of me. He was getting a little nosey and leaning back, ear hustling. He turns and was like we need to talk as soon as we get off this plane, we need to connect. From there, he became our mentor in the industry.
What advice would you give to cannabis entrepreneurs looking to not only participate in the industry, but change it?
Greene: Opportunities are abundant and they’re always available.It’s a matter of if you’re ready to take advantage of that opportunity. You have to be prepared and being educated is the first step to being prepared.
Russell: The biggest thing you can do for any of our people is give them jobs, so they can sustain their livelihood, so that they don’t have to depend on people that don’t give a damn about them in the workplace. When you start to look at your business as liberation and freedom opportunities versus a point of making money, you begin to change the narrative. There is nothing more powerful or gratifying in my life than cutting a check to someone that looks like me for a business that they’ve been growing. Nothing is more rewarding than that.