When Macio Lyons talks about the power cannabis equity programs have to change lives, he’s speaking from personal experience.
Raised in Bayview-Hunter’s Point, Lyons tells SF Weekly that when it comes to his own company, Traphouse Cannabis Consortium, he’s looking to accentuate the positive, not to dwell on the past.
“I’ve had my run-ins,” Lyons says. “I became a casualty of the war on drugs. I’m in no way blaming everything on anyone else. I made some bad choices when I was a youngster, due to my environmental influences — same with my business partners — but we’ve turned our lives around. When we saw an opportunity to get into the legal cannabis industry, we jumped at it.”
Lyons and two lifelong friends saw that opportunity thanks in large part to the Original Equity Group. The OEG, an outgrowth of the San Francisco Cannabis Equity Working Group, holds educational meetings aimed at aspiring cannapreneurs. The meetings, hosted by the likes of Ramon Garcia and Nina Parks (both of whom lent a hand in shaping San Francisco’s equity program) help equity applicants make vital business connections, so they may learn the ropes, raise capital, and develop strategic partnerships.
It was thanks to one such meeting that Lyons and his business partners began to see exactly how they could turn their dream of opening a legit pot business into a reality.
Around the same time, Lyons ran into Morris Kelly, founder and CEO of the San Francisco dispensary Grass Roots. Kelly, it turns out, had been mentored by Lyons when the latter served as youth advisor for a telecommunications program hosted on Treasure Island.
Upon reconnecting, Kelly connected Lyons and his partners at Traphouse Cannabis Consortium with the Burke Group — a local extract company — and Local Equity Distro. Operating with permission under a Burke Group permit, Lyons says the next step is to scale up and get out of the red.
“Now we’re just trying to build the company and figure out a way to make this thing profitable and viable for us,” he explains.
Earlier this year, Traphouse got a major boost when Shawn Richards, the equity operator who owns and operates the dispensary Berner’s on Haight, agreed to let his store serve as a showcase for the brand’s debut.
“He gave us our first opportunity by allowing us to launch in his store,” Lyons says. “He gave us a lot of notoriety because Berner’s on Haight is the most popular dispensary in Northern California. What Shawn did for us opened a lot of doors and we’re forever thankful for that.”
Even as Lyons works to get Traphouse cannabis onto more shelves, he’s also doing what he can to help others like him make their own way through the challenges of transferring their business away from the traditional market and into a legal revenue stream. That’s why a letter penned by Lyons was recently sent on behalf of the organization the Hood Incubator.
Formed in 2016 by Ebele Ifedigbo, Lanese Martin, and Biseat Hornin, the Hood Incubator seeks to address the lack of inclusivity in the cannabis industry (and beyond). One result of their efforts is a Cannabis Justice Accelerator — a 20-week training program that strives to leave attendees, in Martin’s words, “with a holistic understanding of the implications of the drug war and the skills to champion campaigns that will dismantle its impact.”
“The Hood Incubator’s Cannabis Justice Accelerator,” Martin added in an email, “will graduate over 100 cannabis justice activists like Macio Lyons across the country in the next several years who will continue to push for progressive cannabis policy in their jurisdictions and, collectively, federally.”
Unfortunately, last-minute tweaks to the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act by members of the U.S. House in December now pose a threat to the critical work of organizations like the Hood Incubator and to the livelihoods of prospective equity operators like Lyons.
“While monumental in its intent,” Lyons writes of the bill in his letter, “there have been dangerous last-minute additions [that] could exclude people like me — those of us with felony convictions — because of the war on drugs waged against communities like mine. These changes would also gut the spirit of cannabis social equity programs designed to leverage the legal cannabis industry to begin to repair the harm caused to low-income communities of color during the racist drug war.”
The Hood Incubator is committed to fighting these changes, which is why they recruited Lyons to sound the alarm.
In addition, Lyons also has a forthcoming podcast — “The Treeal Business Talk Podcast” – set to hit major streaming platforms in the next 30 days. The plan is to use the show as another avenue for collecting knowledge for those now navigating the ropes of being a cannabis equity operator.
“It’s all about paying it back,” Lyons says. “At one point in time, I was so deep in the streets that I never thought I’d make it out. To be able to make it out, to transition and change my paradigm and to get a little education under my belt? Now I feel that I have a responsibility to share what I’ve learned with other people who come from where I come from. Because if we don’t do that, they’ll probably never find out.”
Zack Ruskin covers cannabis in his weekly column, “Pacific Highs.” Twitter: @zackruskin