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At this cannabis dispensary, the surrounding community gets lifted, too

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LOS ANGELES (CIRCA) — One growing chain of marijuana dispensaries is looking to reverse some of the damage done by the criminalization of the product over the past decades.

The People’s Dispensary is on a mission to make cannabis accessible to all who need it, all while creating opportunities for marginalized and low-income communities to work and invest in the cannabis industry. The dispensary currently operates in Portland, Oregon, and multiple parts of California with plans to open out East.

“We believe that cannabis should really help three sectors: the individual, the employee and the community,” said Christine De La Rosa, co-founder and national CEO of The People’s Dispensary.

One of the unique aspects of the dispensary’s model is that it allows individuals who don’t meet traditional investor requirements to invest in the business.

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So, how does it work?

Investors exchange dollars for ownership units in their local dispensary. In early 2018, units sold for $1. After three years, investors can cash out and sell their units back to The People’s Dispensary or other investors. Not only can investors profit from increased unit value, but they also receive disbursements based upon their dispensary’s net profits.

The People’s Dispensary also empowers disadvantaged neighborhoods by allocating a percentage of its funds to finance projects specific to the community’s needs.

What makes this place special, according to Mike de la Rocha, one of the dispensary’s regional co-founders based in Los Angeles, is that “the ecosystem is all made up of people directly impacted by the war on drugs, people of color, so that’s everything from the grower, to the product to everything else.”

Since the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

“Following the 1937 act, effectively criminalizing marijuana, there was a series of federal legislation which created [the] modern-day war on drugs,” said Tamar Todd, the director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

She says the next levels of legislation waded into drug possession and drug use.

“And that law has—as it was designed originally back in the 1930s—disproportionately targeted and criminalized communities of color in the U.S.,” Todd said.

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Not only do the founders seek to work with smaller distributors, but they also provide work opportunities to those who have been incarcerated and are looking to start a new life.

“The People’s Dispensary is an incredible company that’s really centering those directed impacted by the war on the drugs and providing opportunities for people to build generational wealth, as well as to give back directly to the communities that they’re from,” said de la Rocha.

"You see this as another opportunity to heal our communities that have been impacted by multiple issues, whether that’s poverty, whether that’s incarceration," he continued. "So, for us, we see cannabis as something that’s really instrumental for us, to not only build wealth for our communities, but as a way to heal our communities."

"We believe that cannabis should really help three sectors: the individual, the employee and the community."
Christine De La Rosa, co-founder and national CEO of The People’s Dispensary

Some of the dispensary’s impacts weren’t even necessarily anticipated at the start but have come along with success.

"There’s been a lot of results from The People’s Dispensary," De La Rosa said. "I think one of it is helping empower other people of color who are trying to build businesses. They look to us as a model, they come to us for advice."

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