• Christopher Smith, Publisher

New York Reaches for the Stars

I just got back from a due diligence trip to check out a new marketing client in New York City. Things are popping off in a New York kinda way, which means big and loud … let's start with a headline from Sean Teehan at Syracuse.com.


And to my good friend Rico Lamitte, hopefully this story gives you a little positivity about advances social equity in our industry, of which there are far too few!


NY Marijuana Regulators Issue New Licenses, Appoint Key Equity Officer


THE SCOOP

The NY market has made some big, necessary strides recently, as reported in a major upstate news source. Our own Roz McCarthy recently brought a story to The State of Cannabis News Hour about how the $200 million fund might be entirely directed toward real estate, and we had a spicy discussion about whether this was positive or a smokescreen. But today, some very promising news:


“The flurry of activity comes a day after Governor Kathy Hochul announced long-awaited appointments to the state’s cannabis advisory board, as well as the news that the $200 million Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund will be overseen by NBA Hall of Famer Chris Webber and entrepreneur Lavetta Willis, along with Suzanne Shank and William Thompson, CEO and chief administrative officer of Siebert Williams Shank & Co., LLC, respectively.


Chris Weber is a name you’ll recognize. He’s a well-known former NBA all-star (I didn’t know he made the hall of fame… I have to update my database…) He announced 9 months ago that he was breaking ground on a $50 million cannabis operations and training center in Detroit. Lavetta Willis is involved via a company called Players Only, a Black-owned business that she and Webber co-founded, “which focuses on cannabis cultivation and retail, brand partnerships and content development.” She went to law school to become a sports agent, became an entrepreneur and ended up in the hottest industry in the world, so she’s got a nose for business.


Both people of color, already immersed in the industry, and taking a strong role in the emerging, potentially multi-billion-dollar NY market – this is great news and I hope the governor gives them the support they need to get the job done, and doesn’t just hang them out as pretty faces.


THE DEEPER DIVE

Also announced, “Cannabis Control Board members unanimously approved Damian Fagon as the Office of Cannabis Management’s chief equity officer. Fagon is now responsible for developing and implementing OCM’s social equity plan.”


“Fagon is a member of the New York Cannabis Growers & Processors Association, is

· a third-generation farmer who has:

· Led agricultural development initiatives for castor farmers in Jamaica

· Rice growers in Sierra Leone and

· Coffee exporters in Guatemala.


This article only scratches the surface on Fagon, so I found another article about him which digs into his background a bit more.


He’s pretty much a force of nature:

  • “After years in the Peace Corps in Guatemala and a few more in Washington, DC at the State Department, Damian Fagon wanted a change

  • He got his Masters in Public Administration from Columbia.

  • He taught at Medgar Evers College, a historically Black college (HBCU) in Brooklyn, balancing agriculture with business

  • He developed an entrepreneurial cannabis incubator in the Bronx

  • He helped launch and advise commercial weed operations in New York, South Carolina and the Caribbean.

Clearly, Damian Fagon is a superstar in his own right. We need to clone talent like this.


Keep an eye on DAMIAN FAGON.


I've always found it fascinating how hemp growers and operators are getting the first licenses in New York for the simple reason that they’re up and running already and can more quickly make the switch from CBD to THC, rather than start from scratch. It's Go Time, people, and Governor Hochul seems to be playing for keeps.


"Jenny Argie, CEO and founder of Brooklyn-based CBD edibles company Jenny’s Baked at Home, said requirements for the [new] conditional licensure [there are 13 companies in priority] largely match the steps her company had to take to maintain its hemp processing license, including getting certified as a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facility, among other requirements. Jenny said “I was basically setting up a pharmaceutical manufacturing company,” Argie said of the rigorous standards she had to meet. “The (cannabis) application is pretty identical to what I already had to do.”


THE LAST WORD


Phew!


New York is (finally) making some really good and important moves in the social empowerment space, by engaging three POC rockstars in key positions of authority and inspiration.


I'm hoping the good Governor gives them the budget and respect they need to do great things; that she throws her weight when needed; and that the "New York model" can become as great as its potential.


With Chris Weber, Levetta Willis, and Damian Fagon, she's already done what California failed to do - invest in star power to legitimize and validate our community, and the future of our industry.


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Image Source: new atlas, hillrag.com ; BornRich