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Paul McLean: We Need a "Come to Cannabis" Moment

Empowering black and brown communities to become cannabis shareholders while educating politicians who still believe the plant is nothing more than the "devil's hay."

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This week, Paul McLean, founder and executive director of the Virginia Minority Cannabis Coalition, discusses his efforts to empower black and brown communities to become cannabis shareholders while educating politicians who still believe the plant is nothing more than the "devil's hay."

Virginia doesn't have an established cannabis market. The state made headway in 2021 when the Cannabis Control Act was signed into law, but shifting political landscapes have stalled efforts to legalize adult use. As the cannabis industry evolves in the state, Paul McClean sees opportunity to create a more equitable, inclusive environment. 

When the state started investigating forms of legalization, McClean was working with the governor's office as part of a committee of 20 to 25 people, some of who worked with state agencies, to prepare for Virginia's entry into the cannabis market. At these meetings, McClean realized the committee never discussed equity. 

He established the Virginia Minority Cannabis Coalition (VMCC) to give a voice to the people who weren't in that room. He is working to achieve true inclusion and provide equal opportunities in the Virginia cannabis industry, including what it should look like and how it should be implemented. 

McClean says Virginia has the opportunity to become an equity business leader in the south, similar to the way Atlanta became an inclusion example as a city 25 years ago. 

Part of the problem is an education gap; Virginia needs a better understanding of cannabis culture and how it's different from alcohol. According to McClean, many policymakers have very unrealistic views of the cannabis community and how it's unlike alcohol culture. He says it's hard to put a framework on an industry when you think everyone in it is a voluntary drug addict hooked on the "devil's hay."

He thinks politicians need a "come to cannabis moment," a sort of awakening to industry realities, if the state is to have any chance at creating a solid process for legalization that can be amended and improved regularly to remain agile and compete with surrounding markets. Though, he concedes, such a realization is an unlikely scenario. Nevertheless, Virginia has an opportunity to do things right if politicians understand, listen to and communicate with constituents. 

A long road lies ahead. For example, McClean recently heard one politician calling equity programs the "give a criminal a corporation" program. Yet, despite the incredibly offensive comment, he remains steadfast in his work. 

The VMCC is driven to teach business to aspiring cannabis business owners. McClean helps lead boot camps, five-week courses for future cultivators, dispensary owners and those who want to carve a niche in an ancillary business. The boot camps help each entrepreneur figure out where they want to work in the cannabis space and then help them shape their business and write a business plan. 

McClean started the boot camps to give people a crash course in cannabis, covering everything he has been studying for the last ten years, to provide doorways, pathways and onramps to the industry. 

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