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First social equity dispensary in U.S. is now closed

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The first-ever social equity marijuana dispensary to open in the United States closed up shop in March, after the store’s landlord declined to renew its lease, Green Market Report has learned. But the owner says it’s not the end of the venture.

The dispensary – Blunts and Moore on 66th Ave. in Oakland, California, right next to the Oakland Coliseum – was the first social equity license recipient to formally open for business back in November 2018. The Oakland city program sparked a national movement aimed at making amends for the race-based targeting of Blacks and other minorities by law enforcement during the heyday of marijuana prohibition.

The humble program – which began with just four retail permits, including that of Blunts and Moore – led directly to similarly structured social equity programs in states like New York, Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, and Missouri, along with high-flying political promises that such policies would help create generational wealth to repair the years lost in prison for nonviolent cannabis convicts.

Blunts and Moore co-owner Tucky Blunt had high hopes when he opened the doors. He even told Forbes and Leafly in 2018 that he wanted to eventually list on the Nasdaq and become a national franchise.

But now, Blunt has become more of a cautionary tale for cannabis entrepreneurs with dollar signs in their eyes, a warning signal that the marijuana trade is not an easy one in which to find success.

Blunt confirmed to Green Market Report that his shop closed to customers in March after his landlord declined to renew his lease, but he indicated in follow-up emails and texts that he intended to pivot to a marijuana delivery business and perhaps special cannabis-related events. He also shared that he’s looking for a location to reopen Blunts and Moore, but he declined interview requests this week for more details.

“I didn’t look at it as closing,” Blunt wrote in an email. “It was a pivot/relocation. Closing makes people think it can never reopen, which isn’t true.”

Future of cannabis?

But it’s far from clear whether Blunt will succeed, said social equity advocate Amber Senter, given how notoriously difficult the California marijuana industry is.

Senter, who owns the California brand Makr House, said the biggest takeaway from the Blunts and Moore closure – even if it’s just temporary – isn’t that social equity programs, per se, are failing, but that the California cannabis regulatory landscape is essentially unworkable for small companies.

“This is par for the course, considering the regulatory framework that we have to work within. We’re going to see many more business closures across the board,” Senter said. “California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, wherever. My question is, is it responsible for us as an industry to continue to be encouraging people to get into the industry when we know what the ramifications are?”

“If this is the future of cannabis, it’s very scary,” Senter said.

The issue isn’t with the Oakland social equity program, or even how it’s been administered, Senter said. She praised city officials for having adapted as necessary to feedback from industry stakeholders like her. Rather, she emphasized, “it’s incredibly difficult” to succeed in the California climate.

“I’m never going to point to the programs and say, ‘This program was the problem, this program was the problem,’ because this is a problem across the industry, period,” Senter said. She added that she is “getting my ass kicked” with Makr House due to the same systemic problems: high state and local taxes, huge amounts of red tape, and major price competition from the underground market.

The primary takeaway from Blunt’s story, he agreed, is that having a cannabis business license is no guarantee of success these days.

“Definitely not a guarantee of anything but debt lol unless you own the land,” Blunt wrote in an email.

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