In a cityscape with branded cannabis on billboards and bus stops advertising a marijuana museum exhibit, Candace Wiggins shines as a radiant beam of a California cannabis dream become reality.
Today, the 31-year-old black mom and East Coast transplant prepares orders at the Berkeley-based headquarters of StashTwist, a female-operated delivery service. She inspects a crystal-coated nug of high-CBD ACDC from the women growers at Dirt Ninja Farm.
Three years in, she’s employed at not one but two marijuana start-ups, StashTwist, and Green Rush Consulting — an Oakland consulting firm where Wiggins greets callers and visitors with an undeniably bright enthusiasm rooted in real-world reality. Through her job, she knows just what it takes to get started in marijuana.
Initially inspired by the 2011 Discovery Channel show “Weed Wars,” Wiggins came to California via a small town in New York State to chase a dream. As the newly-legal cannabis industry continues to form, she joins a large group of newcomers hoping to be included in the flurry of economic activity known as the “Green Rush.”
Right now the cannabis industry and America at large is having a crisis of faith in legalization, where the spoils of prohibition’s end are as unevenly distributed as the rest of 21st Century incomes. Few canna-business owners are black. Many say institutional racism has systematically deprived blacks of the cash and real estate needed to launch a state-licensed business.
“It requires a lot of capital and I’m really starting to be able to see how people of color can be feeling like they’re going to be left out,” Wiggins says. “It even makes me kind of question, ‘What am I doing here now? Do I have a future in this?’ I’m really on the fence about that at the moment.”
For Wiggins, the question is all too prevalent. Chasing her career on the West Coast means the young mom sees her first grade daughter Esmé only in the summer. As an employee at Green Rush, she understands the costs associated with launching a legal cannabis business — beginning with thousands of dollars in application fees alone — can be a huge barrier for those without cash savings. Within her home state of New York, marijuana business entrepreneurs spent more than a million dollars each just to get started.
“I’m hoping someday [a career in cannabis is] going to be the bread and butter and get me my Tesla, but right now I’m just kind of a hope and a prayer and paying bills,” she says during an afternoon shift at the marijuana delivery headquarters. “I would love to get back to New York, not because I ever want to live there again, but because I want to be there for her, but I have to wait for that industry to be more emergent… New York is in such cannabis limbo.”
And with more and more states across the nation developing programs for medical and adult-use marijuana, the laws of land are in limbo just about everywhere. But there are also bright spots. This spring, Oakland became the first city in the nation to actively combat racial disparity within marijuana industry by establishing an “Equity Permit Program” that will award cannabis business licenses to applicants living within areas of the city identified as having higher marijuana-related arrest rates.
“When you look at cannabis industry across nation,” Oakland Councilwoman Desley Brooks told reporters from NBC Bay Area, “it’s dominated by people who are white and they make money. And the people who go to jail are black and brown. I wanted some parity. There needs to be equity in this industry.”
Wiggins is hoping that her choice to leave her previous career in the corporate healthcare field in Washingtonville, New York, not only pays off for herself and her daughter, but for other black women.
Along with her employer at StashTwist, Andrea Unsworth, she started a social media project, Black Girls Toke, on Instagram and Facebook. The aim of Black Girls Toke is to share affirmative images of African American women smoking, thus making way for more black women within the space.
“If you look up girls who toke, if you Google it or look at Instagram all you’re going to get is white girls, maybe half dressed, maybe dressed,” Wiggins says. “I was curating the pictures for the Instagram and I was having such a hard time finding images of black girls smoking. Change the color on the google search? Sepia pictures of white girls.
“I really want to be taken seriously as a woman of color and a cannabis user,” she says. “We need to be welcomed and we need to be out there.”
Wiggins’ boss undoubtedly agrees. Unsworth’s career in cannabis began by launching StashTwist, which now serves about 1,500 active patients per month, after her last job with Moody’s Investors Service.
At Moody’s, the 35-year-old mother of three was a lead analyst for clients in the adult-use marijuana states of Colorado and Washington — providing information about tax revenues and bond ratings. But in researching cannabis she found, “you’re also fighting for other aspects of it, the social justice, the equity of ownership,” and when her maternity leave ended, she launched her own business.
“It’s really inspiring to have Andrea as a mentor,” Wiggins says. “It’s just a really great feeling to have her and be able to look up to her and see it’s possible, you know, for someone like you to be in this, too.”
And the admiration between the two women is mutual, with Unsworth noting that Wiggins was one of the first people she met in the marijuana trade to be open about her identity as a mother. Seeing this in Wiggins, Unsworth says, helped her to break through the taboo as well and not have to feel ashamed “that I’m a mom that uses pot.”
Both women are now very active in the local community. Unsworth is serving as the San Francisco Bay Area chapter chair for Women Grow, a for-profit organization devoted to advancing women in marijuana business, and Wiggins has also aligned with the organization, having accepted a scholarship from the group to attend a marijuana trade show in Los Angeles.
The support Wiggins has received has helped her completely cut off the anti-depressants she had used for the last seven years. She is using new knowledge about the healing properties of CBD to better herself and is incorporating more CBD selections into her smoke sessions.
“I pay attention to the strains I smoke,” she says while describing the uplifting orange terpene profile of a Sour Tangie strain carried by StashTwist.
And while there are plenty of potential pitfalls ahead, Wiggins is staying positive with all things.
“Cannabis always kind of has a way of helping people grow,” she says.