OAKLAND—On a Friday in January 2017, the night of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Ebele Ifedigbo and Lanese Martin welcomed several dozen people to a cozy office in a marijuana-friendly part of the city cheekily nicknamed “Smoakland.” As folks lounging on comfy couches lit joints and puffed from vape pens, the two business school grads explained they were launching a project of their own, a nonprofit that would do something no one in the nation had ever done.
As they put it, they were going to train black and brown people to start their own legal cannabis companies.
In the audience, Linda Grant listened intently. Grant, who once sold enough weed to help support her children, had gotten out of the illegal drug trade to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. Since then, Grant, a 49-year-old mother of six, had watched her hometown become one of the unofficial capitals of the state’s ever-expanding cannabis business—an industry projected to do $6.5 billion in sales statewide by 2020. Oakland, with its decidedly left-leaning political vibe, was rife with cannabis-related businesses, legal and otherwise. But