by JR Valrey, The Minister of Information and Editor in Chief of the San Francisco Bay View
Rosemary Jane Cannabis Consumption Bar and Dispensary has the only bar offering only cannabis infused drinks in Oakland. The Oakland location looks very modern, spacious, and peaceful, which differs from many of the other dispensaries in the Bay Area that are designed much like the local smoke shops.
We wanted to feature Black cannabis business trailblazer Cynthia Carey-Grant, the co-owner of Rosemary Jane Cannabis Consumption Bar and Dispensary, so that our readers can be made aware of an elder that is making a name for herself in the local cannabis industry.
Ever since the passing of Prop 215, which decriminalized marijuana in the state of California and led to the Green Rush, many Black entrepreneurs have had a hard time coming up with the required capital to apply for licenses, permits, and brick and mortar locations. There still are only a handful of Black owned cannabis dispensaries in Oakland, although the illegal cannabis industry dating back from 1937 to 1996 (in California) was built off the backs of Black and Brown people, who were imprisoned under the “War On Drugs”, disproportionately, for creating and expanding the market for the herb. Ironically, as racism would have it today, white cannabis entrepreneurs dominate the legal cannabis market.
With marijuana products being taxed at 30 plus percent, it is good to see a Black woman elder, like Rosemary Jane co-founder Cythia Carey-Grant, take the opportunity to jump into such an emerging and lucrative industry, and succeed. Check her out in her own words.
You can see JR Valrey, the SF Bay View’s Editor in Chief, interview Cynthia Carey Grant live, at Smoke N’ Word on Thursday, March 16 at 6:30-8:30 pm, at 2340 Harrison in Downtown Oakland.
JR Valrey: Can you tell us how you got into the cannabis industry? What did you want to accomplish? What year was that?
Cynthia Carey-Grant: I credit my son, Caron, with planting the idea of entering the cannabis sector into my brain. In 2016, I was serving as Executive Director of a women’s health organization, providing services and advocating for women living with HIV/AIDS.
Some of my clients were medicating with cannabis to help relieve the symptoms of the disease and drug treatments. Caron proposed starting a medical cannabis collective to serve people living with life-threatening disease.
The Oakland Equity program was great for people like me, without prior background in retail cannabis.
This was the genesis of True Holistic Health Center. When the voter’s approved legalization, we had to pivot. I retired from the non-profit organization and applied for the equity program.
JR Valrey: When and how did you decide that you wanted to open your own dispensary?
Cynthia Carey Grant: In 2019 met real estate and cannabis entrepreneur, Erik Murray, at an Equity mixer. We shared our mutual visions, and discussed becoming partners in a radical equity and BIPOC led enterprise, committed to cannabis decriminalization and social justice.
In 2020 we submitted an application together to be considered for the City of Oakland’s competitive cannabis storefront dispensary license permit and scored the highest score. That’s when the real work began.
JR Valrey: How quick did it happen, and what were some of the initial steps that you took to secure permits and the investments needed?
Cynthia Carey Grant: We began the steps to open the store in May 2020, and opened almost two years later in March 2022. Building a cannabis business is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of planning, tenacity, hard work and capital. Erik had already identified the site.
That was a great beginning. His real estate development background and experienced key staff was crucial to facilitating the buildout, negotiating with the city, dealing with permits and generally keeping the project moving forward. But we soon realized we were going to need much more capital and Erik began the search for partners to help.
JR Valrey: What was your experience like with Oakland’s Cannabis Equity Program? Would you recommend it to people who want to create cannabis products?
Cynthia Carey Grant: The Oakland Equity program was great for people like me, without prior background in retail cannabis. They provide training, legal advice and offer benefits to make it easier to get started; this includes grants and loans. But lack of adequate capital is what eventually becomes the biggest obstacles for many Equity entrepreneurs. This remains an issue today.
My son and I are still struggling to raise the capital to open our RMJivery business. Also, until the banking industry becomes open to cannabis businesses and the federal government follows the lead of the states where cannabis is legal, this will remain an issue. Additionally, the prohibitive tax rate on legal cannabis sales is driving many folks to the underground cannabis market.
Cannabis is the new opportunity industry and it is imperative that people of color, particularly Black folks and those communities most impacted by the criminalization of cannabis, benefit economically.
All that said, Oakland’s program is still the best in the country, staffed by people genuinely dedicated to helping. There are for sure things that can be improved, locally and statewide, but it is a great place to start, and offers valuable resources.
What is needed now is for the Equity community to organize and garner the resources (political and business enhancing) to chart our own path. Cannabis is the new opportunity industry and it is imperative, in the interest of justice and fairness that people of color, particularly Black folks and those communities most impacted by the criminalization of cannabis, benefit economically.
JR Valrey: How did the pandemic lockdown affect the opening of Rosemary Jane Consumption Bar and Dispensary?
Cynthia Carey Grant: It often slowed down the process due to regulatory offices being understaffed and inaccessible.
JR Valrey: What made you open up a consumption bar along with a dispensary?
Cynthia Carey Grant: This was part of the original plan that I also credit to Erik. We always wanted to have a comfortable and safe place where the community felt welcomed. It is also part of the ethos and strategy to de-stigmatize cannabis consumption.
JR Valrey: I love the decor in Rosemary Jane-Lake Merritt, what inspired the design?
Cynthia Carey Grant: The vision was to have an open, airy, light filled space, with an upscale feeling, to attract a diverse range of people in the community. We wanted to mirror the Lake Merritt environment. RMJ is also a very friendly place for the canna-curious and seniors.
This is another segment important to me. This is also part of our commitment to make RMJ a community friendly place, and a good business neighbor.
JR Valrey: Where did the name Rosemary Jane come from?
Cynthia Carey Grant: This was another brainchild of Erik Murray. When he tested it with the team, I fell in love with it. It was an homage to the unseen and often overlooked role of women in cannabis. As a women’s health and gender justice advocate, this was important to me.
JR Valrey: In what other cities are there Rosemary Jane Dispensaries and Consumption Bars?
Cynthia Carey Grant: There currently is one other RMJ dispensary in Portland, Maine. Oakland has the only consumption bar.
JR Valrey: How could people keep up with the inventory, the sales, and the events that you have at Rosemary Jane’s?
Cynthia Carey Grant: Of course we invite those over 21 to visit our website https://www.rosemaryjane.com.
But most importantly, come by and visit the store. Relax, get comfortable and shop at your leisure. We will sign you up to receive notices about upcoming events.
JR Valrey, The People’s Minister of Information, is the Editor in Chief of the SF Bay View. He is also the instructor for The Community Journalism Program.