The war on drugs in the U.S. inflicted a damaging and disproportionate legacy on communities of color. While there is still a long way to go, some states are implementing programs designed to improve social equity, particularly in the cannabis industry.
California has a range of social equity programs that vary across municipalities. The state recently announced $15 million in grants across 10 cities and counties, each of which has a slightly different take on what social equity means. Fundamentally, these programs are designed to help minorities and others who have been impacted by the war on drugs to get involved in the cannabis market.
Cannabis is a booming industry, and social equity programs seek to redress the balance and right previous wrongs. These programs won’t erase the past but might lead to a brighter future for Black and Brown communities.
In Los Angeles, Aja Allen is a social equity license recipient. Today, we’re highlighting Aja’s journey as the owner-operator of a new boutique dispensary in Mid-City, Sixty Four & Hope, which embodies a bold mission statement:
“Sixty Four & Hope is a wellness-focused cannabis store rooted in culture that elevates rich, local voices through the collaboration of best-in-class products and immersive sensory events. We honor the plant culture that came before us with an enlightened, informed, & interactive store experience that emphasizes a product-first mentality.”
“Here’s how we see it; entrepreneurship is the most effective vehicle for Black and brown people to exist equitably in America. By leveraging the growing opportunity in cannabis and social equity, we can invest in people who demonstrate integrity and tenacity for entrepreneurship but lack resources. We want Black and brown people to not just survive in America but THRIVE equitably.”
Who is Aja Allen?
Aja Allen is one of the first LGBTQ+ dispensary owners in Los Angeles, since the 90s. She is also one of only a few women of color to have opened a cannabis store under the social equity program in California. Aja is not only a pioneer within the industry but also an icon for many in her community.
Her visibility helps remind us of the cannabis advocacy work which has been central to LGBTQ+ communities since the 1980s when many HIV/AIDS patients found relief in the medicinal properties of cannabis. This is when and why hospital volunteer Mary Jane Rathbun developed the iconic pot brownie, an often forgotten slice of history. Rathburn and other advocates’ embracing of the plant helped propel the medical cannabis mission forward and symbolizes inclusivity.
As a Black woman, Aja is also one of only a few individuals from a community that has traditionally been disproportionately affected by anti-cannabis legislation. “People have done time for a plant,” Aja reminds us, and her boutique pays homage to their suffering and sacrifice.
“This is for you,” she adds, a poignant reminder that there are still people behind bars for cannabis offenses as well as those whose previous convictions have severely limited their prospects. For Aja, social equity is about restoring hope for people who have borne the brunt of the war on drugs.
Promoting social equity is a big responsibility, she notes and can be overwhelming at times. She has become the face of a movement. While it’s a movement that she wholeheartedly believes in, there is still immense pressure to become a role model within her community.
Still, it’s a mantel Aja is proud to have taken on, and we here at Leafwell do not doubt that she will succeed. Beyond social equity, she finds cannabis a valuable way to decompress at the end of the day. At Sixty Four & Hope, she has access to a range of excellent products like lemon lavender tonics and caramel apple prerolls.
What Makes Sixty Four & Hope Different?
Sixty Four & Hope is a cannabis store that opened in September 2021. Aja’s location is the first of 21 planned under this brand. As the owner-operator, Aja felt the store needed not to read cannabis. Instead, the store is a wellness-focused space: light, bright and green, designed to deliver an immersive, sensory retail experience and to carry high-quality products.
Aja has a retail background, and her commitment to her guests’—not customers— experience shines through from the moment you step foot in her store. There’s a range of relevant literature to browse, as well as a lounge area that is a favorite of medical cannabis patients or those who seek privacy as they discuss their product needs with an advocate, Sixty Four & Hope’s version of a budtender.
Sixty Four & Hope is a nod to Proposition 64, which legalized cannabis for personal use and cultivation in California in 2016. Sixty Four & Hope also signals the belief that this business, minorities, and Aja have a more equitable future.
Sixty Four & Hope believes that the economic opportunities available within the ever-expanding cannabis space can lead to critical investments for people with the tenacity and integrity needed for entrepreneurship but without the resources. By removing economic and social barriers, Aja can start to close long-standing gaps. Love the sound of it? Follow Sixty Four & Hope on Instagram and get involved in their future.
A Different Cannabis Experience
If you think you know what to expect from a cannabis dispensary, think again.
Sixty Four & Hope, with Aja’s mission front and center, offers a new, enlightened, informed, and interactive store experience. The advocates at Sixty Four & Hope are carefully trained and highly knowledgeable. Many of them came on board weeks before the store was open (some even before Aja had secured the necessary licenses). This commitment serves to highlight their unwavering belief in the vision and mission of the business.
“They come to work to be a part of history,” Aja says as we discuss how she managed to hire so successfully given the current employment market. She emphasizes that it’s more than a job for her team members. These employees are advocates who play a valuable role in an agenda they share. That’s a powerful motivation.
Sixty Four & Hope advocates offer guided tours, product recommendations specific to your price range, and advice based on what you’re looking for in a product. In addition to teaching every guest, these advocates are members of the community. It’s crucial to Aja and her team that familiar faces welcome new and returning guests.
The Future for Social Equity in Cannabis
There’s a long way to go when it comes to redressing the balance in the cannabis industry. The history of cannabis and the history of Black and Brown communities are interwoven and inseparable. But the future, at least in states with social equity programs, shows some promise. The climate is nowhere near perfect, but opportunities are at least starting to emerge.
Aja Allen is committed to opening up more businesses within her community to generate additional jobs and economic opportunities. Her mission is to leave a legacy and build generational wealth for those who have been sidelined by society for so long.
If you’re in LA, head over to Sixty Four & Hope in Mid-City and discover a new, socially equitable way to shop for cannabis. And wherever you are in the world, check out their Instagram!