A black-owned cannabis dispensary is opening in downtown St. Louis

ViolaSTL, a cannabis dispensary, has been serving medical patients at its Olive Street location since 2001 and is the only African American-owned store in the downtown St. Louis area.

Dan Pettigrew, managing partner, and Jamil Taylor, director of operations, have a third teammate on the ViolaSTL ownership team in former SLU and NBA star Larry Hughes.

Pettigrew and Taylor celebrated the store’s debut Monday afternoon, and several customers stopped by before its doors officially opened.

“We want to be in the urban areas,” said Pettigrew, who with Taylor opened dispensaries in downtown Detroit and Chicago.

“Many of these areas are underserved, and black ownership is important because few dispensaries are African-American owned.”

Pettigrew said he and his partners’ push to open dispensaries builds on past law enforcement efforts that “targeted certain people.”

The American Civil Liberties Union found in a 2020 analysis that black people are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, even though black and white people use marijuana at similar rates.

It’s also a lucrative business, especially since Missouri legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Marijuana Business Daily, an industry newsletter, estimates that retail marijuana sales will reach $33 billion when final 2022 figures are released, and $52.6 billion by the end of 2026.

Unfortunately, there are few black dispensary owners in the St. Louis, Missouri area and the United States.

Because states do not readily identify the race of dispensary owners, it is difficult to find an accurate national percentage. However, the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association reported in 2021 that there were 192 dispensaries in the state and none were owned by a black entrepreneur.

That changed in January 2022 when Adrienne Scales-Williams launched Luxury Leaf at 1463 S. Vandeventer Avenue in The Grove neighborhood.

A 2017 MjBizDaily study concluded that only 4% of cannabis companies are owned by African Americans. A 2022 update reported that businesses with owners who identify as minorities are about 19%.

This figure includes 5.7% of owners who identified as Hispanic and 2.4% who were Asian. Another 6.7% identified their race as “other.”

Jess Horton, co-founder and chairman of the board of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told MJBizDaily, “The biggest need, the biggest disparity and the biggest outrage is the licensing process and the ability for small businesses to enter the market first.”

“And then to survive after dealing with big taxes, huge license fees or all these other things that we fear are shaping up against minority entrepreneurship,” he said.

ViolaSTL has overcome obstacles and will “bring hundreds of jobs” to the city by the end of 2023, according to Pettigrew.

The location opened just over two months after Missouri voters approved the recreational use of marijuana.

“Now that it’s legal, it’s important to provide a positive experience for our customers,” he said. “We will prioritize medical patients for now.”

“We’ll soon be transitioning to medical and recreational customers.”

As for Hughes’ involvement, Pettigrew said “we wanted to be as local as possible, and given his involvement in this city, Larry is thrilled to be involved.”

“He always gives back to his community and the best way to show that is to be an owner.”

Taylor said the partners have been working to find a location and open a business for four years, and the area where ViolaSTL opened “doesn’t look like it did back then.

The store is located across from the SC STL football stadium and is adjacent to St. Louis Police Headquarters.

“It’s exciting for us,” Taylor said.

“We’re going to have a great product and a great customer experience.

Taylor navigated the details of licensing and store design and construction. According to Pettigrew, Taylor produced “the highest-scoring application in the state.”

“We love this neighborhood. We love being next to the football stadium. We’re big football fans,” Pettigrew said, just hours before the venue welcomed its first customers.

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