Akele Parnell, Head of Equity Partnerships at Lantern
When did you formally enter the cannabis space?
I entered the cannabis space in Feb 2018 when I joined Green Thumb Industries as an in-house counsel working on their market expansion activities.
What made you decide to work in the cannabis industry?
I entered the cannabis space for several reasons. For one, I’m a fan of the plant and its ability to foster human connection and creative expression. Another reason I joined the industry is that I wanted to help shape the industry to provide Black and Brown communities with the opportunity to build generational wealth from a plant that has been used to oppress our communities for generations. Lastly, I wanted the opportunity to own my own cannabis business.
Do you feel there is more opportunity for Black Americans in the cannabis industry versus a more traditional industry? Yes or no and why?
Long term I think there’s more untapped financial opportunity in the regulated industry for Black Americans than the traditional industry. And opportunities in the traditional industry will only decrease as time goes on. But given the current barriers to entry for Black Americans, it may make more economic sense for many to continue to participate in the traditional industry for the time being. So long term, there’s more opportunity in the regulated industry, but right now, it’s probably easier to make money, and more money, in the unregulated market. That said, obviously, the non-financial risks in the traditional industry are much higher for Black Americans than other races (risk of arrest, prosecution, asset forfeiture, incarceration, etc.), so it’s probably smart to start to make the transition.
What is the most successful social equity effort in your opinion? Can be a charity or company program.
To date, I think Oakland’s social equity program has been the most successful. To my knowledge, it’s brought the most Black and Brown cannabis entrepreneurs to market of any social equity program. Granted, the California market is extremely saturated so operating is tough for everyone. But at least Oakland-based Black entrepreneurs have a real shot at getting a license and the chance to compete.
What is your personal goal for 2022?
My personal goals for 2022 are to successfully complete our first incubator cohort in NJ (the New Jersey Cannabis Project), launch an incubator in NY (the New York Cannabis Project), and get my dispensary and craft grow businesses up and running in Chicago. So I have a lot of work to do in 2022, but if all that gets done, I’ll feel pretty good going into 2023.