On a mild winter night, I decided to drop into a Harlem pop up centering cannabis entrepreneurs, and a growing community.
I wanted to see how the Black Mecca or Harlem World or SoHa in gentrification speak, implemented a freshly pseudo—legal and highly visible cannabis industry into an area that has seen its times of Black and Latino youth getting locked up for selling dime bags of cheeba around the corner.
Arriving to the green-lit storefront of new paint and chill people about two hours after the start time, the crowd had definitely thinned. I missed Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and the introduction by cannabis activist, Mary Pryor who still passed out petitions for us to sign. Luckily, there still was a mixed collective of vendors, advocates and casual consumers drinking freshly pressed juice and snacking on CBD-infused vegan cheese.
Fighting a nasty season flu, a guest didn’t mind talking to me through nasally questions and coughs. His name was Panama Chavis, and he told me ran, Be.En High, a hemp based CBD company sourcing flowers and plants from his family’s farms in North Carolina. That story struck up all kinds of questions on his experiences. Here’s our talk.
Ark Republic: Be.En High, what’s the concept behind that?
Panama Chavis: I want to re-shift how we look at cannabis so we also understand that it’s more than just getting high. There are all of these medical aspects of it, so we want to tap into that. People have always looked at cannabis as just the recreational purposes, just the psychoactive components, but when we talk about all of the health benefits we’re talking about the CBD side of it.
Based out of Harlem, but I have a farm in North Carolina, I work with farmers in Oregon and some in Florida as well.
My family has land in North Carolina, I got my family to start growing in North Carolina. Hurricane Florence in September destroyed our whole crop, so I had to work with other farmers that were not affected so much so. I partnered with other farmers in Oregon and Florida to contract them out in order to constantly have flower and plant to be able to produce and process.
Ark Republic: How did you get a Black family in North Carolina to agree to grow cannabis?
Panama Chavis: My cousin is the lead scientist for Duke cancer research. She’s actually an evangelist which is kind of dope because she sees the science behind it. So me and her kind of partner together. You know how everybody got that one auntie. You know that auntie that’s good and she’ll bring the rest of them on. So I got that one auntie and me and her work with the family. And she got her own bit of land. My grandma getting older, so she’s just like ‘Imma get in where I fit in.’
Me and my mom’s still going back at it, but she loves me nonetheless.
Ark Republic: So after it grows, you bring it up here. How does that go?
Panama Chavis: So after we grow we get it tested because it has to get tested before you move it. Once we get it tested, we get it packaged then we get it shipped here. So if we’re working for the partnering farmers, they get it tested. They do all that other stuff. They give us the COA which is the certificate of analysis. Once we see the certificate of analysis, that is what basically allows us if the police or anybody else decides to stop us, we can show them that we are legit, as well as, this is what this has been tested as, and this is the THC content that it has in it.
Ark Republic: Now can you explain a little bit how you maneuver through the federal aspect of cannabis in New York?
Panama Chavis: The orange man did something right about three or four weeks ago where CBD derived hemp is legal federally across all 50 states [including US territories]. Before it was just state-by-state. But federally now we’re legal. So we haven’t had an issues, I’m knocking on wood … but also know people who are in the industry who have had issues when it comes to transport and all these different things.
Ark Republic: I’ve heard that the Department of Health were going to places now and shutting things down.
Panama Chavis: The Department of Health or the DOH has stopped us from the FDA perspective. We were partnering with restaurants to get into juice bars and pizza shops and all these different partners that we had on paper, but they said they’re going to stop that because they now have to come in and test your products because it doesn’t have a regulation. But, you know it comes with business, you’ve got to crawl before you walk.
Ark Republic: Can you describe the cannabis community of color? If you’re a part of it.
Panama Chavis: Which cannabis community of color? Cause we’ve all been burning a little bit.
Ark Republic: The ones who have moved toward [the idea] of ‘let’s profit off of this because we’ve been high.
Panama Chavis: So I see it two ways. I see a handful of us who are actually about it, who are actually going to get it. Who actually going to go and start their company, get their LLCs and do the leg work that needs to be taken to get it done. But I also see the flip side of it with any industry. They’re [those who are] just like ‘I’m good.’
So I see that [community of entrepreneurs] as so small, but we’re big, in the sense that, I’d rather have a small room of go-getters than a large room of people who ain’t really going to get it. Because I can make more movement depending on the quality of person that’s in the room. So that’s what I say about this new cannabis community of color. We’re actually in it and we’re doing it. We’re supporting each other and we’re grinding it out.
Ark Republic: With any company, in any industry, money and investment have always been a problem. What are you doing or the folk that you’re working with are doing, to ensure that there is a level of sustainability?
Panama Chavis: I think sometimes when people talk about investment and money that it takes, I think they also forget about the hustler’s mentality. Sometimes you’ve got to take a little bit to make a lot and flip it over-and-over again until you get the number that you need.
Just to give you an example, I started the company with $1500. Now I’ve made that money back, but I’m constantly reinvesting it. So looking at the numbers it constantly goes to double, double, double, double and keep going. So I’m not in it for the microwave. I’m in it for that long time, that roasting of the turkey in that oven for some time. So I know that it’s a building process and I also understand that I could take out some loans, but for me, I started everything myself and have been grinding it out without investors.
The return will not necessarily be right away fully in New York. For me, its just that you’ve got to keep chipping away at this.
Ark Republic: We’re in Harlem. Where do you see the role that Harlem will play in the cannabis industry?
Panama Chavis: Truthfully, I’m going to be honest. With legalization coming. With all of these things happening. With the tax numbers, we’re going to be taxed a lot. Those taxes are going to more law enforcement to be able to stop [inaudible]. So it’s going to shift us if we’re not ready for the shift.
When I say Harlem, it’s already changing. Because Harlem is changing as a whole, I think I see another change happening. Better yet, I see that the change will be accelerated.
I work in spaces where I see it change and I don’t think everybody is looking at it. With legalization and all these things changing. I don’t think the [cannabis] community of Harlem who has started in Harlem is ready for that change.
Ark Republic: Three tips for people who are starting in this industry. What are some things you’d like to bestow on the new cannabis entrepreneur?
Panama Chavis: 1. Look at it from a bird’s eye view. Do not just look at a dispensary. Do not just look at a plant. Eff dat. Unless you’ve got land. Or, unless you’re growing or doing these different things, don’t do it that way. If you do not have a lot of capital, if your money isn’t large, go about it another way in another approach.
2. Here are things that you can do, create a rolling tray. Yes, Raw [rolling papers] already does it, but you can do it too. So thinking of the different products that accompany cannabis. If you want to make the lightbulb for the grow houses. If you want to make incubators. If you want to create a cigar shop for cannabis [smoking]. Think outside of the box. If you are a smoker or a consumer, think about what you would want or what you don’t have in your industry or experience. Then create that.
3. The other tip is, just do it. Just dive into it and that’s with anything in business because there are things that you don’t know. As well, get out your own head and find a mentor. Find someone whose been in business for a long time. Once you do that, you’re good to go.
We’re raising money for Ark Republic and Black Farmers Index. We need your help to keep the wheels churning and the stories flowing. Please donate to organizations committed to keeping you informed with rich, robust stories and great connections to empowered people.