There is little Rick Ross cannot sell.
Himself: The 55-year-old is traversing the country selling copies of his self-published autobiography, promoting a documentary about his life airing on Al Jazeera, and giving talks to whoever will pay him, as he did Saturday front of a small crowd at Laney College in Oakland (a brief Bay Area stopover before he jetted off to Atlanta that night).
Crack cocaine: the autobiography and talks focus predictably on the 15-plus years he spent as, possibly, America's most prosperous drug dealer, a stint that today “credits” him with flooding black communities in Los Angeles and elsewhere with loads of cheap crack.
And now, “Freeway” Rick Ross wants in on America's next top industry: marijuana. With legal cannabis sales clocking at over a billion dollars a year in California, “I want in,” Ross told us over the weekend.
[jump] Briefly, Ross's fascinating one-of-a-kind bio, for anyone who has not heard the story: Ross built an empire that supposedly sold close to a billion dollars' worth of crack cocaine in the 1980s. He did this thanks largely to a Nicaraguan connection who had a near-inexhaustible supply of raw cocaine, available at bargain prices. This supplier was connected to the CIA, and was funneling the profits from his arrangement with Ross back to the CIA-connected Contra rebels. This nefarious scheme is outlined in the recent film “Kill the Messenger,” which is in turn based on the story of journalist Gary Webb's “Dark Alliance” series.
He'll happily tell this story, along with how he learned to read while in prison at age 28, and how hard work and purpose allowed him to achieve redemption — the same redemption he'd like to use to enter the cannabis industry.
As a household name in the drug game, Ross is well-positioned — he has a brand with instant recognition and enormous street cred — but it's unlikely you'll ever guess what he wants to add to the cannabis industry.
Unless you guessed “vegan edibles.”
Despite his out-sized reputation, “Freeway” Rick Ross is physically diminutive: he stands at about 5-foot-5-inches tall. And while lithe and healthy — his close-cropped beard is graying but he has no outward signs of hard living or even the 13 years' hard time he did; his face's few wrinkles look like laugh lines — he doesn't look to be more than 140 pounds. In other words, the literal opposite of the sizable Rick Ross, the prison guard-turned-rapper who “borrowed” his name.
One way he maintains this figure is a squeaky-clean lifestyle. Ross doesn't drink or do drugs — though he smoked weed daily while selling crack, he says in his autobiography, and he may start using cannabis again — or eat meat or dairy products. It's often hard to find an edible cannabis product that's devoid of eggs or milk, so an “Official Rick Ross Vegan Edible” is absolutely something that could be in the future, he says.
Ross showed up to both days of the International Cannabis Business Conference earlier this month where he hobnobbed with the likes of U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and other industry bigwids and wannabees.
So far, multiple people have approached him to enter the cannabis industry in some way, but he hasn't bit at any offers yet. He has options, and no need to rush: he's close to rapper Kurupt, who is pushing his super-potent “Moon rocks” product, as well as Cypress Hill rapper B-Real, who recently received a permit to open up a dispensary in Santa Ana.
That's more Ross's speed, he told us.
“I'd like to open up a dispensary. I would like to own a dispensary,” he says. “I want to open up one in South Central — I want to open one up in my hood.”
That will mean some competition. Unlike black neighborhoods in northern California — there are no dispensaries in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunters Point nor in East Oakland — South Central is lousy with pot clubs.
This means competition and succeeding in a crowded marketplace. Ross has done that before. And he says he can do it again.
“It's gonna be fair. We're gonna offer great prices, great service — just like how I used to run my other business,” he said, breaking into laughter.
As for a reformed crack dealer returning to his old stomping grounds to sell another drug, this time with a business license?
“They don't complain about [the pharmaceutical industry],” he said. “They sell drugs, and they kill more people than illegal drugs put together.
“If I can find a benefit to the community with cannabis — I saw where a little girl was having seizures, and giving her cannabis helped her problems. I don't have any problem doing that.”