When it comes to cannabis, Virgil Grant is a trailblazer as both an entrepreneur and an activist. He owns three cannabis shops in Los Angeles, is a founding member of Greater Los Angeles Caregivers Alliance and co-founded both Southern California Coalition and California Minority Alliance. Grant was instrumental in the effort to pass Measure M in Los Angeles, which paved the way for legal, adult-use cannabis sales in the city following the passage of Proposition 64 on the state level. Currently, he's at the forefront of the movement for social equity, meaning that legalization of cannabis comes with justice for communities that had been most impacted by its prohibition.
"We started out fighting for patient's rights," Grant said. That was back in the days of SB 420 and Proposition 215, which led to the legalization of medicinal marijuana in California. Now that the state has legalized cannabis for adult consumption, the work of activists like Grant has morphed to consider the future of the budding industry. Who will be able to participate in it and how can participants build an equitable system?
In 2004, Grant opened the first cannabis shop south of the 10 freeway and then went on to launch several more. He was successful but his businesses were caught in the middle of conflicting federal and state laws. Grant was raided by federal agents three times and, ultimately, was sent to federal prison. "Keep in mind, all of my shops were licensed, so they were legit, okay by each city that I operated in," he said. Grant was incarcerated for six years. He was released in 2014.
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"I jumped right back into the industry and hit the ground running," said Grant, "wanting to make sure that what happened to me does not happen to anybody else in the cannabis industry." Social equity is key to that work. Grant explained that these kinds of programs are intended to help those who have a felony or misdemeanor for "non-violent, cannabis crimes," as well as others who have been affected by marijuana-related incarcerations. Grant is drawing from his own experiences.
"You look at me, a father of six," he said. "I was married and when I was taken and put away for six year in prison, I just wasn't the only one who was negatively impacted."
Part of social equity is in expunging records. "When something is legal, as cannabis is now in the state of California, how does someone still have a cannabis felony or misdemeanor on their record at this time?" Grant asked.
As an activist, Grant is looking beyond California as well and social equity has become a key concept in cannabis legalization in other states as well. As an entrepreneur, he says he's looking to expand his business while maintaining his independence. "I've been courted by a lot of investors, but their end game is to pretty much take over majority of the business and move me to the side and basically have me sit down somewhere while they take over the business," he says. "That's not what I'm looking for and that's not what a lot of us in the industry are looking for."