As we roll into 2022, the cannabis industry continues to grow. It’s only been a few years since recreational marijuana was legalized in California. Prop 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults, was passed back in 2016. Since then, hundreds of cannabis businesses have built themselves up and catered to consumers here in California. Unfortunately, when you observe the statistics, many of these businesses aren’t owned by people of color or women. Some cities have designed several social equity programs to help people who are underresourced launch their cannabis businesses. A program like this served as a catalyst to establish L.A.’s first black-female owned dispensary.
L.A.’s First Black-Female Owned Dispensary
Gorilla Rx is L.A.’s first black-female owned dispensary. Kika Keith is the founder and owner of Gorilla Rx. This visionary dispensary reimagines new highs for the cannabis industry. As a black-owned and women-led business, especially in a field where this is extremely rare, it represents the resilience, power, and creativity of Black women. Their website highlights the fact that L.A. has nearly 200 dispensaries, yet there is only one owned by Black women: Gorilla Rx.
Gorilla Rx Wellness offers more than 1,900 cannabis products. In fact, this dispensary has the largest number of Black-owned brands compared to others in the state. Additionally, they sell several non-cannabis items including food and home goods products.
Keith didn’t build this business all on her own. She has the help of her community and family, including her daughter Kika Howze. Howze heads the dispensary’s brand relations and marketing.
Moreover, Keith needed aid from a social equity program that was made to help individuals set up their businesses. Unfortunately, that was not the case for Keith.
The Los Angeles Social Equity Program
When first working on getting her dispensary up and running, Keith applied to the Los Angeles Social Equity Program for the cannabis department. The program was created in late 2017, a year after Prop 64 was approved. The mission of this program is to “promote equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry”. It’s meant to help those from marginalized communities and address the disproportionate impacts of the War on Drugs in those communities.
Unfortunately, Keith and many other applicants in this equity program struggled to obtain a license. Keith waited for 3 years for her license. During this time, her shop, which would later become a functioning dispensary, was boarded up with signs reading “Social Equity Cannabis Business Coming Soon”.
Eventually, due to the failed process, Keith decided to take matters into her own hands. Along with the help of the Social Equity Owners and Workers Association (SEOWA), she filed a lawsuit. They ended up settling about 9 months later for 100 additional retail licenses.
Even after the settlement, it was another 230 days before Keith was able to move forward. During all this time, she was required to pay expensive rent for an empty property. She looks back at the hard-fought battle to even open the doors of the first black-female owned dispensary in Los Angeles.
When the doors to her dispensary finally opened, the community welcomed her with open arms. Keith grew up in the area where she now operates her dispensary. “I always call it the house that people built because so many people fought side by side with me,” she recalls.
Behind the Owner of Gorilla Rx
Kika Keith had been working in the wellness industry since 2008. She had an established line of chlorophyll beverages called Gorilla Life. This brand provides delicious beverages that gear you towards a healthier and supported lifestyle.
Keith learned about the social equity program the year it was created while attending several community meetings in her South L.A. neighborhood. Black politicians urged more people to get involved in the cannabis industry. They pointed back to the lack of opportunity to take part in other industries, such as tobacco and alcohol. Whereas those industries had a negative effect on Black communities and others of lower-income, they argued the cannabis industry could be different.
Keith saw this as a call to join the cannabis industry. She began to focus all her attention on studying the city’s regulations for the cannabis industry. Keith even attended advisory committee meetings at the state capitol. It was there where she notices the lack of Black people in attendance.
Keith was no stranger to fighting social issues, activism ran in her blood. She launched a non-profit years ago, the Sweet Strings program, which exposed inner-city children to classical music. Additionally, her parents were community activists, hence why the idea of community power is such a prevalent theme in Gorilla Rx.