When Christine De La Rosa, CEO of The People’s Ecosystem, a California-based cannabis operator, suffered a pulmonary embolism from undiagnosed lupus in 2010, it took her five years before she began successfully treating her condition with cannabis—something she would have tried sooner, she said, if she would have seen her Latino culture reflected in California’s medical cannabis dispensaries.
“I think that for me, personally, … the most important thing is representation,” De La Rosa told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary. “The reason it didn’t occur to me to look at cannabis for five years was because I didn’t see representation of myself in those dispensaries.”
Her medical condition halted her career as a technology consultant and left her bedridden with a treatment regimen that included opioids and steroid infusions. Transitioning to cannabis in 2015 helped De La Rosa manage her lupus, achieve remission and get her life back.
De La Rosa’s health journey led her to launch The People’s Ecosystem, an underground dispensary in Oakland that opened its doors in 2015.
In 2018, when California launched its legal adult-use cannabis market, The People’s Ecosystem, a Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC)- and women-owned company, transitioned to the regulated market.
“We raised … about a million dollars between 2018-2019, while other very large companies were raising millions and millions of dollars,” De La Rosa said. “We are 85% BIPOC- and women-owned, so we have less access to capital than most people do.”
Despite this barrier to entry, The People’s Ecosystem has expanded to operate a delivery service in California and a cultivation operation in New Mexico. The company also formerly operated a dispensary in Oregon, which it recently sold. That retail operation, which was based in Portland, was largely a learning opportunity, De La Rosa said.
“We never intended to have more than one dispensary in Portland, and the reason I bought the dispensary in Portland in 2019 was strictly to learn about the legal industry,” she said. “We had raised about $900,000 and wanted to purchase that, and then we moved our team to Oregon out of California so they could learn to operate in the legal market. We were operating in the legacy market for a long time, so we had to learn, how do we do 280E? How do we do taxes? How do we do Metrc? How do we do seed-to-sale?”
The People’s Ecosystem now plans to launch a product line in Oregon, De La Rosa said, to maintain its presence in that market.
Armed with lessons learned in raising capital—and with a desire to teach others what she wishes she had known when she first entered the cannabis industry—De La Rosa launched The People’s Group in March 2021 to fund other BIPOC- and women-led companies in the space.
“It’s all the things I wish I’d had when I was raising capital for my company,” she said. “I wanted to create something to offer all the things we wish we had when we started.”
The fund raises start-up, operating and