It’s finally here. Legal cannabis in California is ready to go fully legit in 2018. How do we know? They’re handing out business licenses and the dispensary owner who just won this historic first license serves as a perfect spokesperson for the new legal cannabis industry. The daughter of a Colombian mother and a Native American father, born-and-raised in Los Angeles, she’s an actress, a public speaker, a respected businesswoman, and a feminist force in the industry.
Meet Yvonne DeLaRosa Green––the first legal cannabis proprietor in LA County.
Why is her license such a big deal?
For one, the fact LA County awarded a woman of color the first license, making her the first legally-sanctioned owner-operator of a cannabis business, is solid evidence LA county gets it. They’re aware of the importance of this moment. Critics have rightly pointed out the sad irony and economic injustice that it’s quite possible POC will end-up getting excluded from the soon-to-be-booming profits of the legal cannabis market, after paying steep prices for being involved in the black market that preceded it. Now that it’s a legit business will POC get to reap any real benefits? Not to mention, far too many POC presently sit behind bars for what will soon be perfectly legal to sell in storefronts. On top of that, just like in every other industry, women face a more difficult path as business owners. Women of color even more so. This is true whether we’re talking about legal weed or law firms. Together, this is why it’s both symbolic and smart that the face of this historic first is a Native-Latina woman, born-and-raised in LA.
Plus, economically-speaking, this first business license is also a huge deal because it marks the beginning of California’s next gold rush. There’s no doubt LA is about to be the center of a huge adult-use market. According to conservative estimates––the legal cannabis industry in California is about to explode. Operating under current rules and laws, in the second quarter of 2017, California cannabis consumers spent $375 million dollars on flowers. That’s just the dollars they dropped for marijuana buds. That doesn’t include hash, resins, wax, edibles, vape pens, none of the other ways to consume cannabis––that’s $375 million spent just on buds. Over three months time. Over the course of a full year, that totals way more than a billion dollars. On just flowers. Starting to see how monstrous this market will be? And the fastest growing demographic is women. Which is yet another reason why, Yvonne DeLaRosa Green is the ideal face of the future for the California cannabis industry, as it emerges from the shadows and its black market past. She represents the potent promise of new legitimate businesses which aim to increase access to, as DeLaRosa would put it, a powerful medicine.
Civilized chatted with DeLaRosa Green about what it means to be the first licensed business owner to sell legal pot; about how she operates her all-female run Malibu dispensary 99 High Tide Collective, about how breast cancer introduced her to medical marijuana and its power to heal, and about her experiences seeing firsthand how cannabis changes lives and in her words performs repeatable miracles.
You started out as an actress; but then a personal connection compelled you to enter the cannabis industry after your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. What was the industry like before you opened your first dispensary, 99 High Art Collective?
Yvonne DeLaRosa Green: My life sort of took an entrepreneurial twist into the world of healing when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer––this was 2007. That’s when I was like, “Mom, you should try cannabis.” My mom had never had a drink in her life, let alone smoked weed. So she was a little reluctant. (laughs) This was before all the studies, before the American Cancer Institute admitted that it helps with cancer. But I just knew. I’d been friends with Jack Herer. He’d always told me that he knew it helped with cancer because he knew people who had taken it and it totally helped them and some people were cured.
So, I was like, “Oh Mom, just try it please.” My mom thought about it. Then she said okay. So we got her a doctor’s recommendation, and I took her to her first dispensary, which was also my first dispensary that I’d ever been to. I was beyond disappointed. It was an awful experience. There were bars on the windows. There were really mean-looking security guards. There were pit bulls barking at you as you’re walking in, literally. They took our doctor’s rec through like a little open dentist’s window, and then slammed it shut right away. It was gritty.
Once we were inside, the budtender was really nice but she had zero knowledge of the healing benefits of cannabis. She just knew what would get you high. Which is what she said. She was like, “I don’t know...but this will get you high.” And I was like, “Oh dear.” (laughs) So then we went to another one. Same thing. Then, without my mother, I went and checked out some other ones. They made me feel like we were doing something wrong, like we were criminals, like we were doing some shady back alley deal, but it was a storefront. I just kept thinking, “Why, why isn’t there a nice dispensary?” And then I thought, “Wait a minute, why don’t I open a nice dispensary?”
Which eventually led you to open your original hybrid art gallery/dispensary in Venice.
At the time there were zero upscale dispensaries. Zero. Ours was the first. It was called the 99 High Art Collective––the world’s very first hybrid dispensary. We were a visionary art gallery in the front. We were a dispensary in the middle. And in the back, we were the Garden of Weeden, which was an outdoor lounge where people could medicate. It was an incredible time. We had celebrities, musicians, DJs, people from the psychedelic and literary world, anybody you can imagine who was also in the healing world and in the cannabis world, they would come to our events. Then the LA zoning regulations came out. Unfortunately, we were too close to a school, so we had to close that location down.
After that change in LA’s zoning laws, you were compelled to open a new dispensary, in Malibu, the 99 High Tide Collective. How’s the new spot working out?
In 2015, on April 20th...4/20...at 4:20 in the afternoon, Tommy Chong, and the former mayor of Malibu, cut the green ribbon. Tommy Chong was our first patient. It’s been an incredible experience since then. We see miracles walk-in everyday.
When we first see patients often they’ve been basically told there’s nothing that can be done for them by their regular doctors––especially patients with cancer. We go beyond just providing cannabis and consulting, we also offer reiki and sound healing and meditation, and all the things that people need to do to reboot and change their lives in healthier way and a more spiritual way. We’ve always called ourselves a higher consciousness cannabis collective. We’re very much into healing from mind, body and spirit. My mom is proof. Twelve years later, she’s cancer-free, and she’s a world traveler. So, I know it works. That’s what we want to do for other people––we want to help other people and save lives.
You’ve just been awarded LA County’s first business license to sell legalized cannabis. (To be clear, that’s separate from LA City, which has yet to administer any legal cannabis business licenses.) How did you come to be the first legally-sanctioned cannabis retailer?
I applied over two-and-half years ago for the LA county cannabis business license. When I walked in there I said, “Hi, I’m applying for the medical marijuana business license.” And they all kinda looked at each other and said, “...Uh, we don’t do that, we’re not giving those out.” (laughs) That’s when I said, “Oh, actually, I believe you’re supposed to, because Malibu contracts-out through LA County.”
What happened was, back in the early Nineties, Malibu became a city. But they didn’t take on business licensing, they allowed LA County to continue to do that for them. So, they had to get on the phone and verify that everything I was saying was true. And they were like, “Oh, wow, I guess we do have to give this lady a business license.” (laughs) But, since they had never done it before, it took them quite a long time. To their credit, being the first one, I’m sure they just really wanted to make sure they were doing everything correctly. It was actually a really pleasant experience. I think the license they’ve given me took them through all the steps that are now going to allow them to provide these licenses once LA County has their regulations in place.
It was really exciting being at the hearing––there was this beautiful, rainbow tribe of powerful, intelligent, compassionate women who were the commissioners. Having been to a lot of hearings on cannabis, that was extremely rare. I always like to see women helping women in this industry––and in any industry. I’m very grateful. It’s very historic. The county called it historic. They were very excited to give out this first license. And I’m a LA-native. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. For me, I feel like it’s special. This medicine is so meaningful and special in my life. To be able to heralded as the first is always exciting. And it just feels right.
As a woman in the business of healing, what do the feminine and/or feminist aspects of cannabis mean to you?
Cannabis is this feminine plant. I feel like marijuana is an herb that’s on this planet for us to use to heal ourselves. It’s also a woman’s herb to provide to people. I feel like how it was in ancient times––when women were the healers, they were the mystics, they were the wizards. You know? (laughs) I come from a long line of curanderas, which is a Latin term for natural healers. My grandmother, my great-grandmother, they always believed in total natural healing. Growing up, we didn’t even get Band-Aids, ya know? (laughs) We never took any cough syrup. Everything we did was herbs and completely natural.
So, I think, when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, my mom said to herself, “Well, what would Grandma do?” That’s how she decided to say yes to cannabis. She forewent chemo and radiation, all those drugs––she didn’t do any of that. Now, my mom’s cancer-free. That’s why I do what I do. To a lot of people that sounds like a miracle. And it is. But it’s a miracle that can be obtained by anyone as long as they have safe access to this medicine.
We have a lot of patients who are children, who have epilepsy, who have brain cancer, and it’s not one-strain-fits-all. It’s very important to get with the right dispensary, the right consultants, the right medicine providers. I think that’s part of our success at 99 High Tide––we’re an all-female run business. My husband’s my partner. But the business is all-run by women. All of our general managers and managers, all our cannabis consultants, everybody––we’re all mermaids. We’re the Malibu mermaids. (laughs) I think that appeals to a lot of people. There’s an innate recognition of women’s ability to heal. When somebody comes in and needs a compassionate ear, and needs somebody to really listen and guide them towards what would be the best cannabis product for them––I think women’s rightful place is as healers.
Many believe that women also represent the biggest potential growth demographic for the cannabis industry, would you agree? Are women about to reshape the pot market?
I absolutely agree women are the fastest-growing cannabis consumer, because I see it every day, in all ages. I have a quick little beautiful story. There was a lady, she was in her nineties; her husband was as well. Her husband was in a wheelchair. She came in with him, and she said very specifically, “My husband doesn’t like to get high, so he needs the CBD. I love to get high, so I want one with a lot of THC.” (laughs) That’s what’s happening! Definitely women. This is our time. This is our industry. This is our medicine. Women are definitely the fastest-growing demographic in the industry. I see it everyday.
As a woman of color, born of Colombian and Native parents, do you find the cannabis industry changing, becoming more accepting of POC; especially considering the past few decades wherein we’ve seen POC be unfairly punished for participating in the former black market? Like, here you are––the new poster woman of this burgeoning legal cannabis industry, do you take pride in that?
I take so much pride in that. Whenever I speak at any conference or anywhere, I always make sure everybody says a little prayer that anyone who’s been arrested for this plant for a non-violent crime should be immediately released. The fact that there’s anyone in jail right now, for a cannabis-related non-violent crime––they should be immediately released and they should have their records wiped clean. It’s… (her voice breaks, she begins to cry) ...I actually get very emotional over this. I think I get very emotional because there are all these people celebrating and succeeding right now, and, meanwhile, there are people who were doing the same thing, they were trying to rise up in the world...they should not be in jail. We’re all doing the same thing they were. Everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from this beautiful plant.
To critics worried about the future of legal cannabis of California, what do you tell them to allay their concerns? How do you convince naysayers this is a win-win for the people of California?
Not only is it healing people naturally, and saving lives, but now that the state has voted to allow it to be taxed, hopefully these taxes will actually go to help our state. Help our schools. Help bring back all those programs for kids that have been cut from schools. Things that we really need––like, funding for seniors and the homeless. That’s my hope. That we stay on top of our legislators, that they make sure these tax dollars actually go to helping our state.
And also, to alleviate any health concerns, I’d say, “No one has ever died from weed. No one has ever overdosed from weed.” (laughs) It’s been quite the opposite. And I think anybody that still holds out any fears or concerns, I think the minute a loved one of theirs is in need of this medicine, and they give it a try, I think they’ll be standing right behind us marching for this plant.