SPOILER ALERT -- You won't find Snoop, Wiz Khalifa or Jay-Z on this list.
While researching for the latest update of our top-selling workbook, How to Succeed in the Cannabis Industry, 3rd edition, I found information around Black and Hispanic-owned businesses in the legal cannabis industry underwhelming. Far too often invisible. From High Times Magazine to MJ Biz Daily, people of color are rarely included in the global lists highlighting key cannabis industry insiders in significant numbers. Only a few consistent names make the mainstream round-ups, largely focused on big name celebrities doing little to truly impact the industry's public perception, government regulations or social equity.
For most, especially men of color, there are no shortcuts to success in the legal cannabis industry. Through the years, I have been inspired by those working passionately on the ground to make it happen for themselves and their communities. Yet, the stories of impactful work, inherent risks and incredible sacrifices of the Black and Latinx cannabis community remain far too often untold. Legitimate and visible representation matters to the future of this industry. While too many men of color have been rendered victims or criminals by prohibition, there are some making headway in legal cannabis. This list offers a glimpse into the ways Black and Hispanic men are trailblazing the legal cannabis industry. These 65 outstanding men are truly pioneers, reshaping the narrative around marijuana and hemp to push the movement beyond past incarceration and current domination by a wealthy and privileged few. This list of men to watch in 2020 aims to inspire, motivate and empower the next wave of professionals, entrepreneurs and investors looking for their successful path into the legal cannabis industry.
#31 Al Harrington - Global
Retired NBA player, Al Harrington founded Viola Brands in 2011, naming the company after his grandmother. Inspired by her experience as a cannabis patient, Al has become a global cannabis advocate and Viola is now a nationwide leader in the production and sale of premium quality cannabis products, licensed to operate in Colorado, Oregon, Michigan and California, with plans to expand into Arizona and Nevada in 2020.
#32 Gary George - Piscataway, NJ
Known as "The Digital Marketing Ninja", Gary George has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years as President & CEO of Blazin' Multimedia helping companies multiple industies increase revenue, market share and customer loyalty with creative & technical digital marketing solutions. He recently transitioned his expertise into the cannabis industry, launching Real Cannabis Entrepreneur, providing professional training and coaching from an elite group of proven cannabis pioneers.
#33 Jose Belen - Miami, FL
Jose Belen is a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran and co-founder of Florida Mission Zero, a nonprofit organization addressing the PTSD and suicide epidemic plaguing U.S. veterans. An inspiring public speaker and an outspoken advocate for compassionate access to medical cannabis, he is one of six individuals and organizations who are currently suing the federal government to remove cannabis from its list of Schedule I drugs.
#34 Grizzly Bocourt - Queens, NY
A Rebel Minded Society (A.R.M.S.), founded by Grizzly Bocourt, is a
lifestyle brand known for curating events, producing content, as well as providing platforms that educate and equip millennials with tools to actualize positive change in their communities. A leader in the New York cannabis community, Grizzly is founder and Creative Director of Cannaware Society and head of NY Cannabis United, a coalition of advocacy groups.
#35 John Alston, Jr. - Oakland, CA
The other half of the dynamic duo behind James Henry SF, John Alston is
a U.S. Navy veteran and mechanical engineer transferring his previous operational skills and experience with atmospheric gases to the cannabis space. As co-founder and COO, he is innovating and setting new standards in the cannabis industry with products carefully curated from seed-to-sale and undergoing various checkpoints during the CO2 extraction and distillation processes.
#36 Seun Adedeji - Global
Headquartered in Oregon, Elev8 Cannabis is a multi-state operator of cannabis dispensaries founded by Chicago-native, Seun Adedeji. Leading the industry in his commitment to service, inclusion, and social equity, Seun is the youngest Black man in the country running a cannabis dispensary, with licenses and plans to open additional stores in Massachusetts and Illinois.
#37 Todd J. Hughes, PMP - Washington, DC
Todd Hughes is an experienced project manager, engineer and entrepreneur who has consulted with over 100 companies since his business EntreVation was formed in 2015. A business incubator and accelerator, EntreVation provides project management services and human capital development for public and private sector clients, including a vertical specifically for cannabis. He recently became Chairman of the Board of Directors for Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA).
#38 Roger Obando - Venice, CA
With over 20 years of experience in software development and consulting, Roger Obando is co-founder and former Chief Technology Officer for Baker Technologies, a leading CRM software platform for the cannabis industry, servicing more than 800 dispensaries across the US and Canada. In 2018, after one the largest cannabis tech acquisitions in the history of the industry, Roger successfully exited from Baker. He is the author of The Highest Common Denominator, available on Amazon.
#39 Clinton "CJ" Carter, Jr. - Louisville, KY
Clinton Carter, Jr. is co-founder of Comfy Hemp, an e-commerce business offering hemp-derived, CBD-infused tinctures, salves and protein for multiple ailments. As a patient treating his seizures with cannabis, CJ is committed to providing full-spectrum CBD hemp extract through multiple consumption methods to accommodate and help consumers. He is the president of Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM) Kentucky chapter.
#40 Zachary Knox, Esq. - Oakland, CA
Zachary Knox, Esq., a partner at Knox and Ross Law Group with extensive experience with in business law, tax and corporate finance, is Legal Counsel and a key team member at Make Green Go., the first consulting firm to be awarded a government contract to support social equity applicants. He is also the Vice Chair of the City of Oakland's Cannabis Regulatory Commission.
#41 Mike James - Global
After experiencing an injury and subsequent opioid dependency, pro baller Mike James turned to cannabis and ultimately, became the first NFL player in league history to request an official "therapeutic use exemption" from the NFL's substance abuse policy. Mike has chosen to ignore the league's warnings and anti-cannabis education to remain a vocal advocate. He has been featured on CNN documentary series Weed 4: Pot vs. Pills with Dr. Sanjay Gupta and works closely with various organizations to lobby on behalf of medical cannabis and access for professional athletes.
#42 Reggie Keith - Buffalo, NY
Buffalo-native and cannabis advocate, Reggie Keith is the founder and visionary behind Canna-House, Western New York's #1 platform for education and activity-based cannabis events. Reggie has built the Canna-House community on the foundation of inclusion, innovation and information, providing much-needed resources for individuals looking to get medical marijuana certification in the northeast. Working in partnership with WNY NORML, he recently worked to bring Netflix' Grass is Greener film screening to Buffalo.
#43 Brandon Banks - Denver, CO
Brandon Banks is co-founder and COO of Natural Selections Dispensary in Colorado. After years of working for several fortune 500 companies including McDonald’s Co, JP Morgan Chase, and Philip Morris, Brandon moved to Colorado and transitioned to the medical marijuana industry. An award-winning master grower, Brandon recently joined the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) Board of Directors, serving as co-Chair of the Economic Empowerment Committee.
#44 Nelson Guerrero - New York, NY
Nelson Guerrero is co-founder and Executive Director of the Cannabis Cultural Association (CCA). Under his leadership, CCA has become one of the most influential advocacy groups in the industry, most notably one of six plaintiffs suing the Department of Justice and DEA for the removal of Cannabis from The Controlled Substances Act. A bilingual Ecuadorian-American, Nelson is also the Vice-Chair of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
#45 Donte Townsend - Chicago, IL
Founding board member of Chicago NORML, Donte Townsend is the regional chapter's Communications Director, amplifying the chapter's efforts to specifically educate and motivate communities of color to de-stigmatize and accept the cannabis plant as a vehicle for health, wellness, political and economic empowerment. Donte is a leader in the industrial hemp industry, providing premium products grown and harvested in an Illinois-based facility with over 3 million square feet.
#46 Kevin Ford, Jr. - Baltimore, MD
Morehouse graduate and commercial real estate expert, Kevin Ford is CEO of Uplift Maryland. Under his vision and leadership, Uplift strives seeks to ‘End The Stigma’ associated with cannabis through education and training. The company works to increase diversity and inclusion within the emerging medical cannabis industry, ensuring Black and Hispanic communities have an opportunity to participate in the economy of the future. He is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
#47 Brian Williams - Austin, TX
Brian Williams is an engineer and full stack developer with significant early stage experience and operational knowledge. He is Managing Partner for Wayne & Reed, a startup consulting firm focused on B2B cannabis technologies. A former management consultant for Accenture now leading the way in "cannatech", Brian also previously worked as Chief Technology Officer for BDTNDR, a proprietary learning management system for cannabis retail employees or "budtenders". He is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.