Joy Hollingsworth’s cannabis crusade on Washington

Joy Hollingsworth standing in front of a colorful digital background
(Digital art by Greg Dubois)

Joy Hollingsworth isn’t new to cannabis. She’s part of a Black American legacy that’s sprouted from the Pacific Northwest. Joy has deep connections to Washington state, including a successful family cannabis business and an intricate knowledge of Washington cannabis law.

We spoke to Joy about family, social equity, and obstacles the cannabis industry still needs to overcome. Listen to the conversation in it’s entirety, or continue reading for excerpts from the chat.

On entering the cannabis industry

“Back in 2012, three things hit. Barack Obama got reelected the legalization of gay marriage, and 502 hit, which is the legal cannabis market here in Washington state. And my brother at the time… We went and celebrated on Capitol Hill. So we’re right there in between Pike and Pine, Broadway area. Everybody was really happy. They were celebrating. It’s all these things coming together. It’s inclusiveness. It’s cannabis. It’s Barack Obama. It’s all these different… A mush pot of things. And my brother looked at me and he said, ‘Hey, we need to get into this market.’

“We had already been introduced to the plant in different aspects. My mother used it for scoliosis. My uncle, who’s paralyzed from the neck down, used it for his ailments and muscle relaxers. And my grandmother, who just turned 100 this year, started using cannabis about 10 years ago.”

“We all had this medical use background with it, and we thought we wanted to take all of the knowledge that we had and jump into the market here in Washington state.”

How she’s tackling social equity

“Social equity is really a combination of, number one, getting more people of color that look like me and you into the industry on an ownership level. We see a lot of us on the street corners waving the signs, getting people to come into these spots. We can sell the cannabis. We can be able to show people how to do it. We can be on the marketing material. But we’re not the owners. It’s a very, very small ownership percentage. So getting more people in the industry is first.”

“The second piece to that is rebuilding and restoring Black communities, and what does that mean? That means investing in food security, investing in digital equity, rebuilding Black home ownership, and investing in small businesses.”

“We believe that social equity is not only getting more people in the industry, but it’s also rebuilding our community (who was hit most hard by the war on drugs) with different programming and investment that will be able to continue to build generational wealth in other ways – reusing those tax dollars and redirecting those into our community. That’s what we believe wholeheartedly.”

On working with the Washington Build Black Better Alliance

A lot of times we know that when people say BIPOC, which is Black, indigenous, people of color, the “B” is forgotten, so we really wanted to hone in on Black. We wanted to make sure that we centered our community and our people.”

Joy Hollingsworth

“At the state level, I work with a company called FMS Global Strategies and the Washington Build Black Better Alliance with a woman by the name of Paula Sardinas. Her company was the one who really helped pass the House Bill 2870 – cannabis social equity – through the legislature.”

“Working on the state level, we have a combination of different prominent Black organizations within the state of Washington, who want to help lead building back the Black community in distinct ways. We always hear people talk about affordable housing, but we want homeownership. Homeownership is the cornerstone and the foundation for a family, for an individual, for whoever to build generational wealth. That’s important.” 

“The second biggest thing [to address] is food insecurity. We do not have access to fresh vegetables and fruits like other people. That is super important when you’re talking about mental health, you’re talking about your just overall health in general, how you feel about yourself, all these different things, staying healthy. That’s huge.” 

“And the third thing is small business. I think that’s one of the biggest things that we have to invest in – entrepreneurship. People want to start their own business and be able to access grants and money, small interest business loans. We thought about these three things that we really wanted to hone in on to figure out how we can build our community up, but particularly, how we can build generational wealth.”

Joy’s advice for aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs

“I tell people two things that will kill your business: fear and perfection. So nothing’s never going to be perfect. And then the fear of jumping off that cliff, of going out and being vulnerable, being open, is really, really difficult. And so those are the two things that will kill your business. If you can get over those humps to be able to take the next steps, more power to you. That’s the pathway to go.”

“The second piece for the cannabis industry also really is, know your local laws. There is no other government that will shut you down faster than a local government, faster than city council, faster than the committees, your neighbor. Whatever local laws that you’re in, you have to know them. You have to know your representatives. You have to know and navigate and you have to be able to read all of these laws and cumbersome materials to be able to understand them so you’ll be able to navigate whatever industry that you’re going in.”

“And the other thing I wish I knew was that you don’t have to touch the plant to be able to participate in the industry. A lot of people say, “Hey Joy, I want to have a farm like you guys.” I tell everybody the stars aligned perfectly for us to take this window of opportunity. And we understand that we had the resources, we had the network, and we also had the privilege to be able to do that. Not everybody has that. But you don’t have to touch the plant to get into the industry.”

by Janessa Bailey