'We're here to stay': First Female, Minority-owned Pot Dispensary Opens in Ohio

Stephen Andrews
11 Sep 2021

A former Cleveland construction entrepreneur, Ariane Kirkpatrick, is now the CEO and majority owner of the recently launched Harvest of Ohio. The black-owned medicinal cannabis dispensary opened in the state's capital city, Columbus.

Kirkpatrick's company is a family-own business, with many people helping to run and facilitate the operations. The Cleveland woman got the state's license in 2017, but the road to actually opening a dispensary was not an easy one.

The company operates both Harvest Grows and Harvest Processing. An announcement on the official company's website says two more locations, in Athens and Beavercreek, are opening soon. 

Kirkpatrick aspires to be one of Ohio's most stellar operators. She wants to help people improve their health with cannabis medicine and hopes to bring industry-wide change. 

"As a black businesswoman, I have overcome years of obstacles to arrive at this moment, entering this new and rapidly evolving cannabis industry," Kirkpatrick said in an August 20 news release.

"I remember saying wow, this is gonna be scary. And on December 2, that's when the first lawsuits came, the first challenges. Who is she? Why did she receive a facility? Why is she in this business. What qualifications does she have?" said Kirkpatrick. 

Two weeks after opening, vandals struck by spray-painting the words "sell-out" and the N-word on the outside of her High Street location, according to Fox 8 News.

"That's not going to stop me. It's not gonna stop me," Kirkpatrick said. 

In 2016, Ohio became the 25th state to adopt a workable medical marijuana law. Since then, eleven more states have established a regulatory framework for medicinal pot in the U.S. 

According to The State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy in Columbus, which licenses and regulates medical marijuana dispensaries, currently, 56 entities have received a certificate of operation across the state. Only four of the certificated entities are black-owned, according to reports. Three of those belong to Kirkpatrick, and a fourth is a black-owned dispensary situated in Warren. 

As a black woman, Kirkpatrick said she is happy to be part of this industry, "and I'm happy to have a diverse, very diverse workforce. We're here to say," she said. 

Asked if there are any kinds of programs in place to allow more minority ownership, Sharon Maerten-Moore, who oversees Ohio's medical marijuana operations, told Fox 8 News, "there was initially a program that was included in the original legislation. It was later struck down by the court."

Maerten-More added: "However, what we have done is put into place a new system of awarding the licenses that we believe will be more evenly distributed." 

The challenges of setting up a cannabis business

Medical cannabis is a multi-billion dollar industry, but low-income, Black and Hispanic, or formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs typically face adventitious challenges entering the sector. A lot of people can't accomplish their dream of running their own business. It's an issue nationwide. 

States like Colorado and some cities like Los Angeles and Oakland offer incentives for established cannabis operators to give social equity applicants help as they navigate their business. The nature of the help is either financial or as compliance assistance. 

Cannabis businesses remain particularly difficult to operate, however. Laws and requirements differ from state to state, from one jurisdiction to another. Each company must fulfill those unique requirements. For instance, Ohio dispensaries must be 500-feet away from certain other types of businesses, which might affect renting costs or the attractiveness of locations. 

Elsewhere, strict safety and security protocols such as setting up specific ventilation systems are demanded. Until cannabis remains a federally illegal substance, a business owner can't apply for a bank loan. A new law is needed to enable cannabis companies to access regular banking services and also end the biased tax treatment.  

In some cases, costs go balloon to establish a cannabis business. Setting up a dispensary in a suburban area of Los Angeles may reach up to $1 million within a year. Opening closer to the central city area or in a neighboring city automatically increases the costs. A delivery business might seem less of a financial burden, but a lot of money would still need to be paid for various fees. 

There are now 36 states in the US that have approved the medical use of cannabis. Securing equal opportunities or tailoring special programs to help minorities and those most affected by the War on Drugs is often on the agenda when lawmakers discuss regulations. Despite that, stats suggest that only roughly 20% of all cannabis businesses are majority-owned by racial minorities.

It's only fair to say, every time you hear a minority-owned business say 'they're here to say,' clap your hands and give them the kudos. It just might be they're pushing boundaries where they are and worked extra hard to get there.

Stephen Andrews