“I’m giving that to my people—the right information about starting a business.”
On the Bay State’s still-budding but rather huge recreational cannabis scene, Derrell Black is a face that you might have seen, a voice you may have heard. From excelling at community outreach for Pure Oasis in Dorchester to heading the Mass chapter of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, he’s bound to show up in your feed or while you are in Grove Hall buying weed some time soon. We went right to the source, and got Black on the phone for a quick interview.
Tell us about your background in the industry.
I’m the assistant general manager at Pure Oasis, the first Black-owned dispensary in Massachusetts. I’m very proud of that. I’ve been there since it started. It’s been a hell of a ride; I started out doing security there, then I got bumped up to budtender, and with all of the actions I do in the community, they thought I was perfect for the assistant manager job.
Why is it important for someone in your position to actually be from the community?
I’m from Dorchester, born and raised. I know who people are, what times are peak, and I know the other business owners. … It’s about actually implementing things in the community, like I am launching an internship program which I hope Pure Oasis is going to be the first company to be a part of.
What’s the conversation among people of color already working in dispensaries regarding attracting others to the industry?
A year ago, I started doing community outreach meetings called “Let’s Talk Weed”—I did them in Roxbury, and Mattapan, and Dorchester. I’ve done one on health benefits for the body; I’ve done one for businesspeople on fees and how to get out of them and how to maximize your business. It’s the information that’s not given to our community like it’s given to certain suburban communities. I’m giving that to my people—the right information about starting a business.
Why is it important to link up with a national organization like Minorities for Medical Marijuana?
The connections, the networking, the tools. We have lawyers, we have tech people, we have authors, entrepreneurs, and licensed business owners. We’re trying to create a distribution business, just trying to connect in any way we can, being active at our state houses, and relaying that information to our community.
What are your responsibilities?
I’m always actively looking for people to join our organization.
Can you tell us about the Cannabis Center of Excellence and the internship program it plans to roll out once the state sets rules for cannabis internships.
It’s a nonprofit organization, and the program will be three months and will prioritize job placement. We’re also trying to have ownership programs with some cultivation sites in order to make sure they’re doing roles that are predicated to ownership. There’s manufacturing, and we have labs participating.
Everything is so political with cannabis. How do you work with an organization that is inherently political, in an industry that is extremely political, having your own business interests of course, and still stay above the fray? How do you advocate but stay neutral?
It’s like one of my staff members says, I just be water. I go with the flow. When I have to speak, I speak. Sometimes you just have to let people talk and evaluate it. This is a nasty industry; I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, it’s disgusting. You have to be smart about what’s going on.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.