Marijuana Inc: Growing Opportunities For Black Businesses

Wanda James and her husband, Scott Durrah, own Denver-based Jezebel’s Southern Bistro and Bar. They are serial restaurateurs, having operated more than five establishments over the past 18 years. In fact, James graced the cover of the February 1997 issue of Black Enterprise when she was co-owner of Jamaican Café in Santa Monica, California, a hot spot among celebrities such as the Wayans brothers.

But James, a former Navy lieutenant, and Durrah, a former Marine and certified chef, became known for more than just their culinary skills. They emerged as a notable part of the legal marijuana scene as the owners of a medical marijuana dispensary and an edibles company.

“From about 1999 until the time we moved from California to Colorado in 2004, we were pretty politically active in getting jail sentences dropped for cannabis [possession],” says James, a former political campaign manager who also served on President Obama’s 2008 National Finance Committee. In 2009, the couple opened Apothecary of Colorado, a 10,000-square-foot growth facility and dispensary, serving some 500 patients on the Colorado registry. A typical medical marijuana Delivery LA dispensary will house shelves with concentrates (i.e., hash and extracted oils), edibles (i.e., cookies and hard candy), and cooking oils.

The couple sold Apothecary of Colorado in 2010 to focus solely on producing and selling Simply Pure, their pot-infused edibles ranging from mango salsa and marinara sauce to coconut oil and olive oil. The couple was supplying roughly 400 dispensaries and generating around $400,000 worth of business annually. They suspended operations in 2012 because they were unable to get banking services unless they lied about their medical marijuana enterprise– which made conducting business tougher at that time.

But the duo isn’t out of the market. For the past two years, Durrah has been offering Simply Pure cooking classes to private clients who want to include pot in their meals. Kicking it up a notch, the couple has opened the Simply Pure Cooking School, certifying chefs in how to cook with cannabis. They are also planning a culinary cannabis excursion to a high-end resort in Jamaica in January 2015.

Cannabis represents America’s next great frontier–”The Green Rush”–with farmers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists jumping on the bandwagon feverishly in pursuit of riches from the blossoming business of growing, producing, and selling the plant legally. Everyone from Silicon Valley to Main Street is looking to cash in.