In a 2018 post on TNJ.com, Regina L. Smith, executive director at Harlem Business Alliance, wrote that “medicinal and recreational cannabis present incredible opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs, businesswomen and men to create, sustain and grow more Black businesses,” and that “HBA plans to do its part by connecting people and resources and fostering creativity and innovation in entrepreneurship.”
Cannabis Capital Group President & CEO Eddie Armstrong, his wife Sherra and renowned physician Dr. Alonzo Williams are also hip to the allure of the rising cannabis industry. Together, they have big plans for CCG that include their overall goal of “helping underserved communities to participate in this green rush,” Armstrong told me in a recent interview.
A consulting advisory firm that focuses on the responsibility of medical cannabis, CCG was built on three-pillars: education & advocacy, investment and application implementation for future companies that are coming into the marketplace and may need assistance to either cultivate or dispense in the cannabis sector.
Armstrong says that he and his team will soon announce their crowdfunding platform that will allow for interested investors to invest in future startup cannabis companies that may or may not be customer-based like regular dispensaries. “Think of a product maker, for example, who creates a product used for the treatment of seizures,” Armstrong says. “As these new companies start up and bring products to the marketplace, Cannabis Capital Group plans to be the conduit between the startup business and investors who might not regularly invest in these types of opportunities.”
The potential investors he speaks of are physicians, pharmacists, nutritionists and veterinarians who he and his team had been involved with while running their former lab business that tested urine samples for drug tests. “These healthcare professionals are now shifting gears and trying to invest in cannabis from a cultivation and dispensary perspective,” he says. “My team provides ancillary services like advocacy and education, and identifies investment opportunities through our work with these professionals. They are not your regular savvy investors, but rather investors who typically trust their brokers to invest their dollars. We’ve found that they are very interested in participating in this market, but don’t exactly know how to get in.”
In addition to the investment arm of Cannabis Capital, the advocacy component is key. “We want to be seen as public advocates for responsibility around cannabis: how you use it; how police officers treat it when they interact with people; and how you use it as medicine for your grandparents or if you’re an individual who’s received a medical cannabis card in the state of Illinois,” Armstrong says. “We want to be able to provide that education channel with organizations such as Chicago Normal and the National Cannabis Industry Association that are already providing those tools to communities. More importantly, we want to serve minority communities that might not be able to get the same education or go online and find the same information that other people can readily find.”
Although some entrepreneurs have ventured into the marijuana dispensary business with relative ease, such as New Jersey businessman Tracey Syphax who, last year, filed an application with the New Jersey Department of Health to obtain a license to open and operate a medical marijuana dispensary, and is currently a member of the Cannabis Trade Federation’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, others have found challenges. “The number one hurdle is capital, and being able to bank that capital. A lot of times if you’re not associated or affiliated with high net worth individuals, banks aren’t going to guarantee loans to allow for organizations or groups that want to apply for a license for a dispensary, or for a cultivation center,” notes Armstrong.
And there are other stipulations that come into play for those seeking to enter the cannabis industry. “Where you will provide your product, the communities you’re willing to serve and the distance you are from a church or a school are all contributing factors. Organizations and groups must understand all of the parameters under which they should operate while applying and implementing their standard operating procedures to open their dispensary, otherwise there will be a lag indicator,” Armstrong explains.
In a market predicted to grow to $50 billion in 2026 from $6 billion in 2016, according to a report from Cowen & Company, advocates of the cannabis industry continue to push for education and recognition from the federal government as 33 states have now onboarded some form of medical cannabis while 11 states have legalized adult use of recreational cannabis.
For CCG’s part, they look forward to the roll out of their new website, which will eventually allow them to provide startup company deals to interested investors; they also intend to continue making a name for themselves in the industry.
“There are a lot of companies out there whose claim to fame is that they have a 90 percent win rate on applications for licenses. Gaining a license is one thing, having a facility is another thing, and providing great product to the general public is another thing,” says Armstrong. “We aim to beat the drum as loud as we can on the real level of responsible medical cannabis initiatives moving forward, and make certain we are screaming through the bull horn at the federal government, the medical community and other outlets to really take a long, deep look at this industry. Through focus groups of over 200 physicians around the country, administered by the American Medical Association, we have learned that students who enter medical school aren’t taught anything about medical cannabis as it relates to marijuana, other than the limited information dispensed in most curriculums’ basic pharmacology course.”
He continues, “We are trying to push the envelope, so that physicians who give patients the green light, based on a pre-existing condition, to get a medical cannabis card, will be allowed to discuss treatment with them. Right now, doctors are not at liberty to do so, especially if they operate in a hospital setting.”
Armstrong notes that the National Institutes of Health recently received $8 billion from the federal government, which was allocated directly to hospitals whose administrators refuse to allow physicians, in any state, to participate, prescribe or address patients about cannabis. “At this point, it’s really hampering the efforts of patients that now have access to this drug, but whose physicians are not allowed to recommend dosages the same way they would detox an alcoholic,” he says. “We don’t want that to be the case.”