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By Jason Lewis

In the past few years, cannabis dispensaries have popped up all over Los Angeles. As of December 2020, there were 184 licensed retailers in the city, according to the cannabis regulation of the Department of Cannabis in Los Angeles. Some of these pharmacies are in black communities, but most are non-black property, and most pharmacy owners take money back from local black communities to their own neighborhoods where they are from.

Kika Keith, who grew up and still lives in the Crenshaw neighborhood, has been fighting for inclusion since the City of Los Angeles launched the idea of ​​a social justice program for cannabis companies in 2017. Your monumental efforts have led to the opening of Gorilla. run Rx on Crenshaw Boulevard, south of Stocker Street. The location is next to Maverick’s Flat.

Community reinvestment

Cannabis dispensaries are extremely profitable businesses which is why so many business owners from outside the black communities have opened locations in black communities. But Keith didn’t just start this business to get rich.

“This is an example of community reinvestment,” she said. “This is how we want to spend our profits. It is not for my personal generational fortune. If I do not ensure that the prosperity and health of my community grows and increases at the same time as me, that would be a problem for me and my origin. “

Many black community cannabis dispensaries don’t hire local people, but Keith hired 20 people from the Crenshaw district. As a result of their efforts, several local activists and community groups have taken to the streets to ensure that money from cannabis dispensaries stays in the community.

“LA Cannabis Co. has been boycotted out of here,” she said. “They have existed in our church for 10 years. You haven’t hired from our community. They brought their family members with them. They gave nothing back to the community. We should have a benefit plan. You didn’t donate to the community. You haven’t beautified the church. They took the dollars they made from us and they put them back on their side of the world. “

Part of the proceeds from Gorilla Rx are given to local non-profit organizations that benefit the surrounding areas. Through Keith’s own nonprofit, Sweet Strings, a downtown youth orchestra, she found that relying on government funding was not a sustainable business model.

“If we always rely on grants and government funding to do the right thing for your children, we will always stay on the bottom tier of everything,” she said. “We’ll have the highest death rates, the highest dropout rates; until we as people start to do for ourselves. “

Having a black-owned business that is highly profitable and reinvested in local communities is an effective way to combat gentrification.

“We have to see a black business thrive,” said Keith. “We don’t have enough hope and inspiration and success stories from people who look like us.

“We see gentrification around us. This is the last area you see black people thriving. So it’s very important to me that we keep this up as we watch gentrification work differently everywhere. “

The struggle for inclusion and social equality

Gorilla Rx is adjacent to Maverick’s Flat, south of Stocker Street. – Editor’s Note: Next to the Gorilla Rx is the Right Choice Caribbean Market. I stop by a couple of times a week to buy plantains, yams, jerk seasoning, and a few other Jamaican products. -Jason Lewis

The war on drugs over the past 50 years has sent blacks to prisons across the country in droves, with many people jailed on marijuana charges. Many states today have legalized the use of marijuana using the term cannabis. While blacks remain in jail, whites reap the majority of the profits from legalized marijuana. According to Keith, 96 percent of cannabis licenses are held by white men.

The Los Angeles social equity program was supposed to give people of color an opportunity to get into the cannabis industry, but problems within the program made it difficult for Keith and other blacks to open pharmacies.

“When I first heard about the social justice program in 2017, it seemed like it was doomed,” she said. “Like most government programs that come into our inner cities, they look good, but when you start with them, the resources aren’t there. I compare it to Indian reservations. You are giving the land to these people, but you are not giving them water on the land. They have no electricity and no access to capital. We saw the same thing with the social equity program. It takes a good $ 1 million to start a business. How do you make it available to us where we have a licensing priority but no training? We don’t have the resources. “

To help blacks understand the process of getting a license and opening a pharmacy, Keith held courses for two years teaching people about licenses and regulations, and also connecting them with investors.

“When enough of us have this license and you talk about a $ 1 trillion industry, then you will see the dollars recycled,” she said.

Keith ran into other roadblocks, such as another pharmacy that opened next to their location before they could open. The regulations state that two cannabis dispensaries cannot be within 700 feet of each other. If the other pharmacy was allowed to stay, Keith should have found another location.

“We fought for this place for years and then a medical marijuana dispensary moved in next to us,” she said. “You were licensed. So for five weeks in a row the community boycotted to make sure Crenshaw stayed in Black’s possession and we had a chance. “

Eliminate the stigma of cannabis

“People were caught up in the stigma of cannabis,” Keith said. “We always think of people who smoke it, but we haven’t really looked at how it affects our endocannabinoid system. How there are so many advantages. How there are so many different ways to take it, rub it. We have diseases that cannabis can cure.

“Our goal is to remove the stigma. It’s meant to show that cannabis can be a part of your lifestyle, a part of your wellbeing. You don’t just have to smoke it. There are so many uses, there are so many products. It is starting to remove the stigmatizations on grandparents, your mothers, and your fathers who mistake it for someone who smokes a joint and gets high. It’s more than that. “

Gorilla Rx stocks over 1,600 cannabis products, many of which are from black companies.

“We want to meet the needs of every single person,” said Keith. “From the young millennials who smoke in their free time to the seniors who have to rub their arthritic ailments. For the people who have anxiety and PTSD. There are all kinds of drinks, concentrates. We even have coffee beans that are infused. I call ourselves the Trader Joe’s of Cannabis. “

Gorilla Rx has a staff that is very knowledgeable about the cannabis products and who will guide customers around the store and answer their questions. Customers must be at least 21 years old and show their ID. Gorilla Rx is located at 4233 Crenshaw Boulevard. Visit their website at www.gorillarxwellness.com and follow them on social media.