Washington was one of the first states to legalize the possession and recreational use of marijuana. Since then, medical marijuana dispensaries and related businesses have sprung up around the state.
When we discovered that Bud &Leaf was the only Black owned dispensary, we reached out to co-founder, Jim Sulton to learn more about him and the business he runs with his wife, Anne.
SB: What inspired you to start Bud & Leaf?
AB&L: Our business was conceived and begun through serendipity. We won the statewide lottery which allotted only two slots for potential licensees in Olympia. Our good luck afforded us an opportunity to apply for a business license. We decided not to let it pass.
SB: Why is the legalization of marijuana important to you?
AB&L: The inequities and injustices that characterize the putative War on Drugs in this county gave the impetus for participating in the legalized industry.
Too many people have been treated unjustly for too long to ignore an opportunity like this one. The idea that people no longer have to duck and cover in order to obtain marijuana has tremendous appeal. It also excites passion.
SB: Your wife and co-founder is a a retired civil rights attorney. You have a background in higher education. How was it making the pivot from those careers to owning a cannabis dispensary? Are you using any of your previous career skills in your business?
AB&L: I would not characterize the personal change in course I have undertaken as anything less than difficult. Owning a small business was never a vocation like education has. However, when a person makes a career change s/he needs to know better than to ever look back.
I have learned the importance of bringing passion to anything I undertake or not to do it all. That said, the pursuit becomes easier over time.
With regard to the latter question, I bring some the skills honed in higher education administration, e.g., state and local government, activism, careful thinking, research, to this new role.
SB: Why do you think its important for Black people especially, to consider careers in the legal marijuana industry?
AB&L: It is important for Black people to participate or become involved in this burgeoning industry because it is an opportunity for people to hone their entrepreneurial skills. This is an incipient industry now, which means that it is characterized by a great deal of uncertainty.
If any brothers and sisters believe they have a yen for the taking risks to earn rewards, this is an ideal endeavor for them. There is tremendous uncertainty inherent in operating a marijuana business, so I make this recommendation on my personal belief that this will be rewarding for them.
SB: Where do you see your business in 5 years?
AB&L: In five years I hope to sell the business. However, that depends on an uncertain confluence of circumstances that depends primarily on events that may/may not occur at the federal level.
If Congress relaxes the 280 E provision of the IRS code and the DEA reschedules marijuana into a category other than it currently occupies, there will be a sea change of a kind that makes this a national enterprise or industry.
My visceral feeling is negative about that recurrence, but regardless of that in five years I will have given all I can to this endeavor.
SB: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who want to get involved in this industry?
AB&L: Humility requires me to pepper any advice I have to proffer with caveats. Folks need to understand that growing, selling and distributing marijuana has never been acceptable throughout society and it is not now.
No matter how upstanding a person one is or accomplished or highly regarded in some quarters, anyone getting involved in this business is joining a vice industry.
No matter how legitimate a store or production facility may be in the eyes of the law, people engaged in the trade will be stigmatized. They wear a scarlet letter so to speak. Entrepreneurs must be consciously accepting of that or they should not go into the business.