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Colorado’s First African-American Dispensary Owners

A Denver couple are breaking barriers of race and pioneering a new business.

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Although Colorado is leading the way toward a more normalized acceptance of cannabis, the African-American community is still greatly underrepresented in dispensary ownership. Cannabis pioneers, Wanda James and Scott Durrah bring their entrepreneurial spirit and drive to Denver’s burgeoning dispensary market. Their entrepreneurial background includes owning restaurants including Jezebel’s Southern Bistro and Bar, a marijuana edible company, a school of gourmet cooking, and a dispensary. That last business endeavor should be of note, because they have become Colorado’s first ever African-American dispensary owners.

James has had an uphill battle trying to fight the legal blockades that are preventing African-Americans and dispensary owners, in general, from reaching their full potential. With marijuana’s illegal status at the federal level, dispensaries are not allowed to have their own bank accounts. As a former Navy Lieutenant, James has worked hand in hand with the NAACP and the Colorado office of the Drug Policy Alliance. She also served as an appointee for President Obama’s National Finance Committee. All of these achievements led her to participate in the task force for Colorado’s Amendment 64 which broke ground in allowing for the personal use of marijuana for adults over 21.

Her fight to end the decriminalization of marijuana on a federal level came after her step-brother was sentenced to 10 years at a maximum-security federal correction facility after being stopped with 4 ounces of marijuana. He was only 17, but was let out for good behavior. James’ battle is aimed to tackle the issue of high rate of African-American incarceration due to marijuana possession. Findings by the American Civil Liberties Union found that marijuana use among African-American and white people was the same, yet African-Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for possession.

Apart from the clear inequity in justice, James believes that federal regulations are holding back hopeful African-American dispensary owners. James suggests that the black community is afraid to enter the pot business that systematically targets their male youth. The exorbitant costs of opening up a company are another factor for restricting new business owners. Also, states that have legalized for the recreational use of marijuana don’t have large African-American communities.

Although their long-term vision is still a pipe dream, their personal success in business is thriving. James’ husband, Scott Durrah, takes care of the creative and culinary aspect of running the business. Breaking away from brownies and gummy bears, Durrah takes his culinary expertise to new levels by infusing THC into apple butter, peanut butter, strawberry jam, mango salsa, and even granola bars. Their hope is that these edible treats and their commitment to the cause will hopefully empower others to recognize the incredible nature of this innocuous plant.