HOW DID YOU BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH CANNABIS AND WHAT ROLE DID IT PLAY BEFORE THE ELEV8 BRAND WAS BORN? I grew up in Chicago and when I was living there, I was in an environment that was...not wholesome. I got arrested for marijuana possession at the age of 13. We didn’t grow up with a lot and I was a kid that was selling candy and gum in school to make some money. I turned from selling candy and gum to Cannabis. When I got arrested for possession it felt like my whole life was over. Luckily, because I was so young I did not get a felony charge - and my parents sent me to Texas to live with my auntie. Moving to Texas gave me the reset I needed. My auntie was a very successful entrepreneur and nurse, and she just poured a lot of love into me. I’d never received so much love in my life. She never gave up on me and would tell me, “You don’t have to let your past define your future. Life is a blank page and you can write your own story.” HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE RECREATIONAL MARKET WITH YOUR FIRST SHOP? I was a marketing manager for a big cellular company and was making a lot of money, but I kept going back to thinking: What’s my purpose? What are my core values? A lot of the companies that I was working for - I didn’t really agree with some of the practices that they were using. I set out to change that by creating something of my own. Cannabis was beginning to be legalized in Washington, so I was looking at how I could put my passion, energy and ethos into it. I wanted to create a community where people could authentically be themselves. With Cannabis, there was a true upward trajectory and this level of integrity, love, honesty and empathy. I saw that there was a lack of minority presence within the industry, so I also wanted to be the bridge to elevate more people of color to a seat at the table. Long story short, I was driving eight hours from Washington to Eugene to try to find locations. I got rejected a bunch, but finally had someone say yes and I started the process with the state. I started by building out walls; I didn’t have a place to stay, so I had to separate my dispensary from where I was going to be sleeping at night. It was a grind, but we made it happen.
Seun Adedeji has been celebrated as the youngest African American man in the US to own a Cannabis dispensary. In 2017 at age 23, the Nigerian-born, Chicago-raised entrepreneur opened up his first shop in Eugene. Today, his brand boasts an Oregon dispensary, three upcoming locations in Massachusetts and plans to expand in Illinois. But Seun’s sights are set far beyond the realm of retail - he has taken his talents to the legislature and is looking to break down barriers for minorities entering the industry.
WHAT GOT YOU THROUGH THAT GRIND AND MOTIVATED YOU TO EXPAND THE BRAND? The biggest thing was just building a community that really believed in Elev8 - that believed in me and what I stood for. I slept in my shop for a whole year and worked from, you know, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every single day! It was a journey, but worth it when I saw my customers come back and say that the medicine I gave them helped with their pain, PTSD, AIDS or the plethora of different things that they had going on. Even though I was working my tail off, was tired and had days I wanted to give up, hearing those stories really kept me alive and moving. We were able to sustain. We were able to continue to give great customer service and now we have three locations in Massachusetts, and I was able to turn that (Eugene) store around. YOU MENTIONED THE LACK OF MINORITY PRESENCE IN CANNABIS AND A DESIRE TO BRIDGE THAT GAP. HOW HAVE YOU HELPED MAKE WAY FOR OTHER POC IN THE CANNABIS INDUSTRY? When Illinois legalized, I saw it as an opportunity to take every lesson that I’d learned (from every state that we’re currently in) to my home state and see how we can really impact social equity - how we can get more minorities and people of color into the Cannabis industry. There are two main hardships when you’re looking at getting into the industry. One is real estate: Cities and states put out their own zoning restrictions and your property options start decreasing. Boston is a perfect example. They are giving out 80 licenses in a city with 400,000 in population. In lease alone, people are paying $100,000 to $200,000 per month for property. We talk about minority inclusion, well, keep in mind this is what you’re paying in hopes of winning a license. It’s really a gamble! You’re saying you want more minority inclusion, but how is that possible when you have these big barriers in real estate? So we lobbied to have the (Illinois) real estate rules removed. The second hardship we noticed was a lack of capital within the Cannabis industry as a whole. Traditionally, people go to the bank to get credit. You get a small business loan and you start your business. But in the Cannabis industry (because it’s still federally illegal) they won’t even do business with us and it becomes harder for minorities to have access to capital. We lobbied for a revolving loan where a percentage of Illinois tax revenue is set aside for minority-owned businesses, so they can have an opportunity to get into this emerging market before it’s too late.
INTERVIEW by AMANDA DAY @TERPODACTYL_MEDIA for OREGON LEAF| PHOTO by ZACH JOHNSON/HBZ MEDIA