When Wanda James was working to open her first cannabis dispensary over ten years ago, she was poised with many stressors, such as raising capital and worrying about not going to jail in the midst of it.
In 2009, James and her husband, Scott Durrah, opened the first Black-owned dispensary in Denver, Colo., the Apothecary of Colorado. And in 2010, the couple launched Simply Pure edibles and became the first African Americans in the state "licensed to own a dispensary, a grow operation and an edibles company," Cannabis Dispensary previously reported.
The cannabis industry was in a "very different place back then," James said. Not only did she have to stress about acquiring funding, but she also had to worry about the negative comments she would get from others on how she was making a wrong decision.
"In 2009, I remember The Denver Post wrote an article called ‘Coming Out of The Cannabis Closet,’ and I got so many phone calls from all of the politicians that I work with and business people telling me that life as I knew it was over, [and] I ruined my reputation," James said. "And that was a real thing."
James expressed that the money involved in opening a dispensary in 2009 was first and last month’s rent payment, a security deposit, and whatever extra money owners wanted to put into the business.© Courtesy of Cannabis Business TimesSimply Pure Dispensary in Denver, Colo.
"We’ve always been able to have outside investors," she said. "We just had to go through a bunch of ridiculous gymnastics to make it happen, which means we had to take money in as a personal loan to the owners of the dispensary. Then, the owners could put that money into the dispensary and then pay back the investors through a personal loan or a lien on their house. So, we’ve always had that ability, but now we just have the legal, straight-up ability to be able to take that money."
"If you wanted $5 cabinets or if you wanted $3,000 cabinets, it was entirely up to you," she said. "Our first dispensary and grow facility probably cost us around $200,000, and that was financed through credit cards. … A few friends put some money in, but I didn’t have a finance team, and we didn’t have to do all the things required today because [back then] it wasn’t about money; it was about not going to jail.
And several years later, in 2019, Colorado’s cannabis industry opened up to out-of-state money for the first time. While James said it was a big move for the state, she didn’t necessarily change her strategy.
James said that it’s apparent more people are interested in investing in cannabis today than before, as they see it as this "fast-growing, multi-million-dollar industry" in the media; however, when they "actually look at it, they quickly decide that they don’t want to get in," she said.
"And the reason for that is simple: it’s the 280E [Marijuana] Task Penalty," she added. "It’s the regulatory framework, which is highly